SOS to Future-Me: This Editing Ship is Going Down

Posted: February 2, 2014 in Uncategorized
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“I write my first drafts with the absolute certainty that I’ll either throw them away or that future-me, bless his long-suffering heart, will correct their many egregious faults later.” -Lev Grossman

I was reading Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer this morning when I came across Lev Grossman’s essay entitled “Thoughts on Revision” and the above quote grabbed me by the heart and endeared itself to me. I currently am that long-suffering future-me. I wrote a first draft knowing it was going to need work. Now I’m editing…and oh my, is there work to be done.

In all technicality I’m on my third draft right now and for the first time I’ve found myself cursing my own name. The first draft was put down on paper with the innocence of discovery. I had an idea, I wrote it down, I knew I’d fix things later. That handwritten first draft was then transferred to the computer into an alright second draft. Things made much more sense, conflict was added, it was in the basic shape I expected it to end up in. I then printed that second draft into a tangible existence and used my pen to edit once again.

When several pages were finished I then headed over to the computer and made those edits into a new document. If you’ve ever wondered if it’s fun to type edits in a different color in order to see progress let me tell you now, “it is.” Seeing how much a thing has changed is amazing.  I mean, it’s apparent when you cross things out and write things in the double-space gaps but it’s another to see those sentences actually gone and replaced. We’re talking about at least one third of this document being orange so far, and the story is taking an even more beautiful shape. Explanations are coming at the right time, some of the excess crap has been trimmed away.

The problem I’m currently handling isn’t with the number of edits already under the belt, it’s with the kind of edit I have found myself encountering.

Picture this. You’re rolling along making the easy changes and you reach the end of what you’ve edited on paper. You could take a break and hand write them down before editing the document, but you say, “Screw that! I’m a storyteller! I don’t need roads where I’m going!” Suddenly, you enter a piece of edited dialogue and realize you’ve just made an edit that is so much more than a “minor detail”. By making this edit you are changing the flow of the next three pages. You will be cutting out whole paragraphs and entering things completely from scratch because you have no precedent set down for them. You are no longer sure what precisely will be happening. Okay, so you know the general flow but you’re not as knowledgeable. Like I said, you will most likely be cutting huge chunks and replacing it with others. Other chunks will be moved to an ending that you realized you need to have. Yes, the ending you had before was alright, but it didn’t close it off completely. It didn’t feel like an ending to a story, it felt like a chapter ending, which seems a disservice. You now stare at the print off copy not sure what to do with it. It was your guide and now the next few pages are going to undergo so much cutting/pasting/creating that you aren’t sure if  you should attempt to write down what you plan to do or just go for it and double check what you lost and moved at the end of all things.

This is my situation. I don’t have a lot of experience editing. The simple line-edit kind of stuff was easy waters to tread. I’m now in deep water and I’m terrified. I wish I could change places with the future-me who will edit what I’m currently editing. I would know it all turns out in the end and that that current-me is alright with whatever happens to it. As the situation currently stands…I think I’m going to make some edits on paper so I feel better about moving things and then go ahead and jump back into the deep end. The worst that can happen is I start to drown, but I have faith I’ll get thrown a life preserver. After all, if the glass is half full that means the water depth is only a few inches.

  1. Cat Lumb says:

    If you get thrown that life preserver, will you let me share it?
    I know just what you are going through. I am editing chapter by chapter and currently I’m on revision 4 of Chapter 2 thanks to whole new scenes and conflicts appearing during my second draft overhaul. Now it’s not so much a revision as a rewrite.
    I can only have faith that I’m making the right changes and my story will be stronger for it.
    Thanks for sharing. It’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one struggling with this type of thing!
    Take Care – and Good Luck!

    • S. Toman says:

      I’ll throw all the life preservers available as soon as I find them. I’m sure they’re in the closet somewhere…or maybe the attic? I realized that I need to re-examine my main character’s motivations in order to really make it work…and the more I think about it the more I realize I’m probably looking at a rewrite instead of an easy edit. Just think, someday we will have stories that somewhat align with what we imagine them to be. And then we can do a happy dance like John Green.

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