Laser, Hacksaw, Spanner, Hammer: A Post About Editing

Here is what goes through my head when I edit:

Who wrote this drivel?

Shit, it was me. It was me.

This thing reads like a fucking VCR repair manual. Is this even English? It’s got all the grace and elegance of a drunk girl puking in a potted plant at a frat party. It’s got all the speed and potency of an old man with a colostomy bag rolling clumsily down a shallow hill. It’s ugly like the winking sphincter of a sick giraffe. IT’S TURDS THE WHOLE THING IS TURDS AAAAAAGH FIRST DRAFT? MORE LIKE WORST DRAFT AM I RIGHT OR AM I RIGHT

I DUNNO IF I’M RIGHT

I DUNNO ANYTHING

WHO AM I WHAT IS MY VOICE WHAT IS THIS PIECE OF MONKEY DICK I WROTE

AGH AGH AGH AGH

*ten minutes of sobbing*

Okay. No. It’s cool. This is where the magic happens. The first draft is just me dumping all the puzzle pieces out. But it’s still a jumbled image. This part is where the art lives. This is when the story is smashed together, piece after piece. I can make it all make sense! I can polish this turd to a burnished, blinding sheen so bright it will blind the very heavens!

Thank all the gods and all the devils for good editors.

These notes are great.

Though they remind me how terribly inadequate I am.

But that’s fine. I’ve got a shaky flashlight. I can see the way forward.

Okay, see, yeah, all right, this part’s pretty good. And I thought it was terrible when I wrote it. Sweet. Nice. Yes. Gold star. Trophy. Triumph. Except, this other part I thought was awesome — that I need to be awesome — is clunky. Kludgey. I’m reading it and it feels like I’m chewing a piece of dry bread and cheese — it’s a hard slog and I can’t swallow it oh my god the reviews when this book comes out are going to murder my soul.

*shallow breathing*

Breathe in. Breathe out.

It’s all just pieces. Start big. Go little.

Every component just needs some attention. That’s easy. Take a wrench to this one. A hammer to that one. We fix things by breaking them. This is surgery.

Sometimes you stitch. Sometimes you chop off a limb.

Nice. Yes. Things are looking better.

I’m feeling good.

Moving along at a nice clip, now

OH HOLY FUCKMITTENS A GIANT PLOT HOLE

*falls into it*

*breaks narrative ankle*

*spasms*

crap crap crap crap

This thing’s like a Sarlacc pit — a suppurating desert canker. You could lose a whole Rancor Monster in this thing. It doesn’t make sense. Where’s the logic? What was I thinking? Was I high when I wrote this? Did someone else write this? IS THIS A PRANK BY A TIME-TRAVELER? This doesn’t feel right. The character wouldn’t act this way. This doesn’t feel authentic to the time or the place or the scene or my writing or to ANY AND ALL OF REALITY shit shit shit poop crap fuck balls cocktaco jizzwich shimmering blumpy nuggets AAAAAAAAA

*takes 15 minutes to commune with the sparkly collective intelligence called ‘Twitter’*

*trades witty banter with other procrastinating writers*

*improves mood by four micrometers*

Oh! Oh my gosh. Look. If I just rewrite this one tiny paragraph, add a couple hundred words, it ties everything together! Ha ha ha! It’s like a little knot! Like I’m tying a shoe! That’s all, a quick loop and lace and here we are, all fixed, all tidy, we can start to run again and –

GODDAMNIT this thing is so delicate, so sensitive — I moved once piece and now ten other parts don’t make sense. I removed one little widget, one tiny flywheel and now the watch doesn’t tell the right time in fact it’s not telling time at all but instead broadcasting HONEY BOO-BOO in Portuguese by the love of sweet saint fuck aaaaaagh

*starts kicking holes in manuscript*

*takes an axe and starts chopping out whole paragraphs, chapters, characters*

*guzzles vodka and Red Bull*

*plays Xbox for a while*

*takes an angry nap*

*hastily rewrites destroyed sections*

These characters are stupid –

This plot is transparently bad –

I HATE THIS BOOK WITH THE BURNING STENCH OF A GARBAGE FIRE

I am inadequate as an author

Possibly as a human being

Nobody should let me near words again

BECAUSE I’M MESSING THEM ALL UP

theme what’s theme mood THERE IS NO MOOD this isn’t a story arc so much as it’s just a dead clown in the desert whose innards have been eaten by coyotes and whose gassy carcass is now the home of slumbering lizards everything is soggy and deflated and the tension is blown out like a nail-popped wheelbarrow tire and everything is falling out into the mud and the slurry

gazza booza fuzza wuzza

bbbbbbbbbbt

oh god help

hold up

what’s this now

hey wait

this section is pretty good

that section’s not bad either

man I kinda love this character

editing is rewriting is rewriting is rewriting

it’s better now than it was

that’s a good sign right?

DEAR UNHOLY DEMONS, IT’S IMPROVING

maybe it doesn’t suck as bad

maybe it doesn’t suck at all

woo!

I’m doing it!

I’m editing it!

I’m turning a piece of lead into — well, not gold, exactly, but at least a reasonable facsimile of something that isn’t terrible! It’s amateur hour alchemy, motherfucker! it sucks less! I suck less! everything sucks less! I HAVE SUCKED THE SUCKITY SUCK FROM THIS SUCKY SUCKFEST

THAT’S ONE CHAPTER DOWN

SIXTY MORE TO GO

*cackles and weeps*

94 comments

  • Awesome. Awesome. Awesomeawesomeawesomeawesomeawesomeawesomeawesomeawesomeawesomeawesomeawesome!!!!!!!!!

    I love this post. It’s good to know we all lose our brains when we edit.

    This might be my favorite bit:

    “Moving along at a nice clip, now

    OH HOLY FUCKMITTENS A GIANT PLOT HOLE

    *falls into it*

    *breaks narrative ankle*

    *spasms*”

  • I am sincerely addicted to your blog, so I’ve taken the liberty of sharing this post with my few followers. I hope it encourages them to come on over here and read your genius more. ‘Cause holy fuck mittens, you rock!

  • Thank you SO much for the perfect post to explain rewrite hell (which I am currently in … we’re coming up on a year for the damned book). I’ve had to post a link to this post because it’s perfect, seriously. (Hey look, rewrites worked.) ;)

  • Best. Post. Ever.

    I’m roughly in the “gazza booza fuzza wuzza” stage myself. Thank you for the reassurance that it’s not (necessarily) just the sound of all the springs and levers in my brain exploding all at once to leave me in a permanent semi-vegetative state where the only writing I will do is drawing letters in my own drool-puddle with a numb forefinger.

  • This. THIS IS MY LIFE.

    Now I want someone to tell me what the deal is with writers who try and tell you never to write a second draft, ever, because it sucks all the sparkly instantaneous joy out of your writing and you should never rewrite ever EVER unless an editor tells you to and listening to them makes me grind my teeth to dust. Then supply me with the names and addresses of these people so I can go hunt them down with a flamethrower. Because they’re out there. I can smell them.

  • I’m stealing the phrase “fuckmittens.” Usually I use “fudgemuffins” because I used to say “fuckmuffins” but then I realized, “What if I had muffins made out of fudge???” and saying that cheers me up because chocolate.

    Yep all this is my writing life right now! This post looks eerily similar to my editing journal. I like keeping an editing journal because then I can go back to day 1 and be like, “Look, it sucks comparably less than it used to and I HAVE EVIDENCE”

  • Oh my god – talk about ‘a day in my life..!’

    I am going through EXACTLY this with my current w-i-p. (Which I bloomin’, blimmin’ AM SO gonna finish this time, not matter what so CHEW ON THAT UNBELIEVERS… !) Sorry, where was I? Oh yes.

    Draft One of my w-i-p was like getting on a bike and freewheeling down a hill, with the wind in my hair and my feet dangling just above the pedals as I screamed “WHEEEEEE!!!” Draft Two is like trying to walk back UP that hill after too many donuts and daytime telly sessions have transformed my arse into something resembling a space hopper – although, with typical cruel irony, not one I can bounce on.

    Chuck, I cannot thank you enough for reassuring me that the Draft Two Process is SUPPOSED to suck like a Dyson, hurt my head and heart like watching The Jeremy Kyle Show and – oh, glorious revelation! – TAKE A LONG TIME TO COMPLETE! As opposed to the usual “oooh, let’s tart this up a bit – tra la laa -yaay come on Barbie let’s go publish!” coupl’a-months BULLSHIT that I’d always been led to believe was how all ‘proper’ writers rolled.

    My Baby aint gonna be finished in a coupl’a months. Not unless I’m happy with her having eleven toes, an overbite that could swallow her own chin and the IQ of a bottle of Sunny D. If that means I’m not a ‘proper writer’… I guess I’m gonna have to learn not to care, ‘cos that appears to be the way I roll.

    Thanks for Keeping It Real – long may you continue to do so!

  • There aren’t many problems that can’t be solved with an angry nap or a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick.

  • I HAVE SUCKED THE SUCKITY SUCK FROM THIS SUCKY SUCKFEST! mwaaaaaaaaaaaahahaha I am laughing too hard to type anything original.
    Not to be the 1,000th person to quote Anne Lamott on the topic, but here goes: “Everyone writes a shitty first draft.”

  • I will very soon be moving to the editing of my first novel.
    Thank you for this.
    I have prepared bourbon, tissues and a plethora of imaginary weapons… I am ready to attack.

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