I once had a writing teacher who said, “Writers don’t so much finish books as give up on them in despair.” At the time, I so desperately wanted a book deal that I thought publishing a book would be endless joy. And, not to sound ungrateful, it’s amazing. But editing is painful. I finally understand what he meant.
This weekend I holed up and powered through the end of it. I’d done all the little things but had avoided the painful things. The characters that needed cutting. The chapters that needed to go. The truths that needed telling that I didn’t want to tell. I had them written, here and there, but had to pull it all together. It hurt.
I said to someone the other day, “Writing is falling in love. Editing is breaking up.” Writing is all about the illusion, the wonderful feeling of thinking what you have to say is special. Editing is about finding fault, chipping away, looking at things with a critical eye. It is bruising, if necessary. Now that I’m done, my whole sense of myself as someone who knows how to write is shaken. I don’t know how you look at your best work and decide that 10% of it is crap and still emerge unscathed. But I guess this is a step in becoming a Real Writer.
I feel disloyal to characters whose backstories needed to get cut. Who will tell them now? I feel angry at the snarky comments I had to delete, the things I had to leave for the reader to figure out. It could be 20,000 words longer. Or shorter. Editing has made me stop trusting that I know.
But it’s done now. Done! Amazing. And a little scary too.
(By the way, the teacher I reference above is the inimitable Charles Salzberg. Find info about his books here and join me in Barnes and Noble in the city where he’ll be reading from his latest novel on August 8th. Click here for info).