Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Tangled Mess of Cords

If there is one thing everyone knows about me, it's that I hate editing.  With a passion.  If I could, I would just write out perfect first drafts and never have to look at it again.  Sadly, because flawless first drafts are something dreams are made of, I have come to the realization that I will never be able to pump out first drafts that people should actually read.

I've accepted this as fact, and have moved on with my life.  So now I spend my time trying to look at editing in different ways.  Sometimes it's to try and show myself just how necessary editing really is (I once compared it to surgery.  The novel is broken, and when it goes into the operating room the bad parts are taken out and new stuff is put in to help fix it.  Not a perfect analogy, but close enough).  This latest one, though, was more to just explain how I feel when I'm editing.  So, I thought I would share it with you, so you could understand just why I hate editing so much.

I know from experience what the most annoying thing in the world is reaching into your pocket and pulling out the tangled mess of headphones that the perfectly knotted bundle you put in your pocket that morning has become.  I swear sometimes the headphones actually knot themselves, because that's the only explanation that I can come up with for how they end up so tangled.

Now, take those knotted headphones and add a whole bunch of other cords, all of them the deepest black so that you're not quite sure where one starts and the next end.  Or if the knots are even knots or just massive lumps of cord that have somehow formed out of what was once perfectly fine headphones.

That is what editing feels like to me.

I don't just mean that moment when I first pull the headphones out of my pocket, though I certainly do get that feeling when I first print off my manuscript and read thought it.  No, it's the process of untangling those headphones that is rather like editing.

The first thing you do is choose one cord.  Of course, you never know what this cord is attached to, but you're really hoping it's the headphones.  And you start to follow it until you get to the first knot, which is never all that hard to undo.  You laugh a little because this is going to be so much easier than you first thought.  Surely everything was going to be just as simple as that, and therefore you had nothing to worry about.

Right around then is when you hit the second knot.  Except this isn't just a knot.  It's a super knot.  It started out as a single knot that somehow got caught up with other knots.  Cord tangled around it, leaving you with a zillion strings coming out of it, and no idea how to even start untangling it.  That's when that tiny bit of hope you had been feeling disappears.

Eventually you get through it, painstakingly unravelling every knot, separating the cords so that you know which one is when, and when you're have a cord in your hand that isn't tied to anything.

You have to start over.  For just a second you consider going to the store and buying new headphones.  Surely that must be easier than untangling this mess, right?  But, no.  You can't go to the store every time they get tangled.  You're never going to end up with those magical headphones that won't tangle (Okay, actually there are untangleable headphones, but shhh!)  No, you really should just suck it up and keep untangling.

So you grab a new cord and start all over again, painstakingly picking at each knot.  Slowly unravelling it, and discarding unusable cords along the way.  The further into it that you get, the more clearly you start to see the end.  You can see the loops and knots that created this mess, and you start to see how you can fix it.  You know before you unravel which cords aren't attached to the headphones, and you start to feel like maybe -- just maybe -- you can get them untangled!

And, eventually, you do.  Eventually those headphones come loose with one final tug, leaving you finally able to listen to your music in peace.  And in that brief shining moment you forget that the next time you put those headphones in your pocket they'll tangle again.  You ignore that those headphones are imperfect, with tiny knots that you didn't quite get still hanging around in it's length, and you relish the music that pours through them.

That is how I feel about editing.  And the next draft I do tends to get better and better.  Until I send it out to beta readers, and then it feels like I have those same cords in my hands begging to be untangled.  But, I know that eventually I will get through it.  I just have to take it one knot at a time!

How do you feel about editing?  Do you even find yourself wondering if that book is even worth it in the end?

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