Day 23: How To Stop Hating Your Manuscript

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Firstly, I’ve been on the precipice of another ‘I hate my book’ stage but managed to stop it in its tracks, with help.

I recently attended a seminar with the lovely Jodi Cleghorn, who spoke about critiquing and self-editing.  She’d written something about the ‘I hate my book’ stage that resonated deeply with me because I was right there about to plunge head first into it.  A light-bulb went off in my head and immediately I stopped hating my book.  I can only hope that this wisdom can save others.  It appears understanding the reason for it can effectively combat the emotion.

LOGIC is greater than EMOTION.

Sometimes.

I can hear you all asking: ‘What did she say?  I don’t want to think my book sucks any more!’  I’d tweeted a portion of this quote and I love it so much I want to make a meme featuring it, but here’s the full quote:

“Editing is about focussing on all the errors within a manuscript.  In doing so, it is easy to feel consumed: that the whole thing is an entire waste of time–you suck, your writing sucks and the story sucks.”

Here is where the truth lies.  The psychology of understanding what we are really doing in editing.  For everyone that understands basic psychology, you’ll likely know where this is going.

We are looking for mistakes!  If we look for mistakes we will find them.  If we seek out the negatives, it will reflect back on us.  Everybody knows (or should know) the simple truth that negativity begets negativity.  When we are looking for the flaws in our work, we are looking at the flaws in ourselves, in our abilities as writers.  Of course that’s going to expunge our deepest, darkest fears to the surface where we’ll have to face down those ugly thoughts and squash them back in again.

So while I line edit, every sentence that doesn’t need changing or does its job, I’m going to tell myself: “Look at that!  It’s flawless!  It’s wonderful!  I did a good job there!”

I’d never simplified this process before to its base psychology.  I’d just called it ‘editing’ or sometimes ‘polishing’.  To be upbeat, I would tell myself I’m making my manuscript ‘better’.  But now that I know the process is really about ‘seeking out the negatives’, I can combat that with reason, logic and seek out the positives as well.

Thank you Jodi Cleghorn, I’m nominating you for Sainthood.  Patron Saint of Editing.

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13 thoughts on “Day 23: How To Stop Hating Your Manuscript

  1. Delia – you took an idea I had and shaped it far more beautifully than I could ever have. I also have a psychology background and I had never put two and two together at a deeper level. That editing is like negative self talk.

    As I was reading through my first draft I was dismayed at how much terrible story telling there was, and then I’d stumble on some stuff, perhaps a paragraph, maybe a few lines of dialogue, that were pure gold. And I’d comfort myself knowing it wasn’t all crap and if I could write that in the madness of NaNo then I have the ability to shape it all that way during editing.

    I imagine at the 5th draft process I may actually fall into wanting to hate my manuscript, but I will take you advice to love all the bits that rock. Because at the 5th draft level, honestly, the bits that rock far outweigh the crud.

    I will be revising that section again to include your words of wisdom in the ‘how to survive’ seciont – with a nod to you.

    Keep in contact. I’d love to know how your adventures pan out.

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    1. Thank you so much for the kind words 🙂

      I swear these NaNo books will kill us even as they liberate us. My goodness, the line editing… it is the very definition of ‘necessary evil’. Still, writing a book in a month has to be celebrated. I honestly believe if I took my time writing a novel, it wouldn’t necessarily be any cleaner, it’d just be in more danger of never being finished.

      It’s funny how I can sometimes love editing too, though. Do you ever get that?

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      1. The second draft is my playground and it’s the process that I love that most. With the foundations laid down, as shaky as they often are, it’s time to solidify them and begin to build.

        It’s like getting a map and then going on the adventure of discovery. Why for the most part I love editing – until I get to the 5th draft 🙂

        A book in a month is a bit mad. I am a binge writer so it’s perfect for me, though this time I had to have a completed manuscript at the end, rather than just the 50K. I can edit words that are on the page, but I can’t work with a blank page. So I’d rather have something that is crap than nothing at all.

        I thought I might be be able to edit in a month – but it’s been off to a bit of a botched beginning. I’ll start next week in earnest and see if it’s possible. Won’t matter if it runs a little into April. The idea was to see if I could get the second draft done in 28 days, in time to swap with my crit partner.

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  5. I’m also looking at my manuscript and shaking my head. “Really?” I keep asking myself. “You’re working on that?” Because I’m trying something different and when I look back at it, I cringe a little and ask why bother? But you’re right – there’s just as many positives (I think/hope!) as negatives. It’s training the mind to be aware of both.

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    1. I’m deep in the process of editing again – different book this time, and I’m at a different stage. Thankfully I’ve just had a breakthrough–I was struggling (my goodness was I struggling!) but I’ve since discovered why my writing felt “flat” for a particular character’s scenes.

      Trying something different is where the real gold is, I think. Much like gold-panning, you’ve got to sift through a lot of crap before you find the reward… but it’s there! Editing is like finding the gold you wouldn’t have seen before you cleaned that turd-covered nugget.

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