Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

Emotional Phases of the Editing Process December 21, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 5:10 PM
Tags: , ,

Like the full moon – and perhaps affected by it – my mood while editing waxes and wanes. This is often a product of how my day has been going, how much homework I have, the weather, and what scene I’m writing. (Death scenes, for example. I hate writing them. I mean, everyone expects a dramatic speech or whatever, but that always seems forced to me. I mean, if I was shot/stabbed/fell off a cliff, I think I’d be saying something more along the lines of “Ow! This f’ing hurts!” rather than “Gather round and let me impart my wisdom.” However, readers are unlikely to appreciate such dialogue. If you kill off a character, you’d darn well better make it memorable. )

Here are some of my most common editing moods from the negative to positive ends of the spectrum – which occur in no particular order, and various levels of intensity:

Exhaustion: As an IB student, this is a fairly common one. I’ve had a test, a packet for homework, practiced my instruments… the last thing I want to do is drag my sorry, aching body over to the computer and make some annoying little tweaks that no one will probably notice anyway. The extreme of this is Total Burnout, which I’m nearing today. Trust me – I’m only writing this after wasting an hour of my life playing Spider Solitaire.

Frustration:  Nothing is working out. Your characters are flat, that sentence sounds wrong no matter what you do… you want to print the whole thing out, burn it, and then smash the computer. This can escalate to Total Despair, where you realize that all you’ve written is trash, you’re an awful writer, and you need to prepare to work at McDonald’s for the rest of your life. If someone looked at your writing, you’d have to curl up in a hole and die from shame.

Confusion: You sit in front of the screen and wonder how you got here. When did that plot point show up? Why is the character acting a different way than she was two chapters ago? Clearly, you’ve made an editing mistake, and that means a lovely pile of revisions. This can easily veer into Total Meltdown as you realize the scale of corrections you must do. (Speaking of confusion, I just realized I veered from first to second person. Oh well.)

Cautious Optimism: A few of your sentences aren’t totally awful. That character shows occasional flashes of humour. The manuscript is still a mess, but you’re starting to find redeemable aspects. This usually occurs after the darkest hours of Confusion or Frustration have worn out their welcome, and you’re starting to recover.

Inspiration: Suddenly a character or scene idea has seized you, and your fingers move so fast across the keys that you’re leaving scores of typos in your wake. No worries, though – you’ll have time to fix those later. Right now you’re in the zone. Finally something sparked the urge to write within you, and you’ve evened out a chapter or created a new scene. From an editing standpoint, maybe you’ve just received the burst of energy you needed to straighten out an errant section. (I really need this right now. After changing my climax, my denouement needs to be completely redone.)

Excitement: This is, for me at least, the rarest and most fleeting emotional phase. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced it to a high degree. This is when you look at your manuscript and you think it’s great, maybe even wonderful. You’ve done a brilliant job and created a work of literature that doesn’t deserve to line the cage of your notoriously unsanitary gerbil. It has real potential. At the extreme end of this phase – Total Disconnect from Reality – you might even fantasize about large royalty checks and movie deals. Although this is a pleasant mindset to live in, try not to stay too long. It’s best to stay in touch with reality, and understand that your story probably still has flaws – otherwise the first hint of criticism will send you spinning.

We all go through these phases at some point. Some are healthy, some less so. I tend to dwell on the pessimistic end of the spectrum, especially Exhaustion, having just finished Finals week. However, lately I’ve been having the occasional twinge of Cautious Optimism…. let’s hope that stays.


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