Be still, my pounding, leaping, A-fib heart – editing a novel

Hetty describes both the technical challenge of editing her work and that of managing self-criticism and judgment.

As I go along, I’ve realized there are two components to my editing: the editing of the work and the editing of my mindset.

At first I was going to log the needed changes, but I quickly saw that that would be a novel unto itself.

To sum up what I’ve done so far—my first task was to read through the whole thing without giving into the urge to start line-editing and chopping and changing things right away. I was becoming distracted by all the highlights, headings, and red sarcastic asides, so I copied and pasted the story into a new document and removed all the formatting, leaving plain text only.

My keen editor’s eye has determined that the first chapter and all the subsequent ones need some work.  

The most extensive change to make will be changing the perspective. I realized that third-person perspective is not the right one, that the story would be better served by first-person. This would necessitate an entire rewrite but honestly I think that might be the right thing, and that once I accomplish that, the writing will go more smoothly because right now I’m constantly one step removed from what I’m actually trying to say when I write this in third-person.

Otherwise, too much tell, tell, tell. All boring situation with no specific thing at stake. Disjointed and random scenes. Needless crying and drama. Nevertheless, there is some stuff I like. I need to look at this in a productive way. I can’t just read every paragraph and think, this is bad, that’s bad, this is bad. I need to accept it’s all bad and look at more specific issues.

If nothing else, this is an instructive process, because in doing it, I get a better feel for structure and how parts need to be moved around and fitted together. It’s not random. Decisions need to be made. Creativity doesn’t just happen from scratch when the muse strikes but also when, for example, two parts beg to be joined.

If I don’t do the painful, grueling work now, I never will. I thought this work was the editing of my story, but I’ve realized, while reading through it, that the painful and grueling part is editing out the the self-criticism. My chest tightens and my heart literally pounds when I read the work and picture what other people think. For some bizarre reason, I don’t know if it’s OCD or something else, I always worry people know my thoughts. The logical part of my brain knows they can’t but I feel like they know every lame, corny thing I think and write and are not only contemptuous of me but embarrassed for me. Yes, I know that’s dumb, but I can’t help it.

So this great battle is in fighting these voices, doubts, cringing, paranoia. I personally think I can make something halfway—halfway—decent with this so I must fight the voices telling me not to bother. It’s an exercise in pushing past these voices and doing what I want to do, not what I think other people think I should do. Even if I achieve nothing else, winning the battle against imaginary naysayers is a victory. Literally imaginary people, or at the very least, imaginary versions of real people.

My pulse races with anxiety when I hear these naysayers, who are reading over my shoulders, sometimes whispering, sometimes shouting in my ears. This is harder than the editing itself, because every single line is read not through my own analytical eye and mind, but through someone else’s. What would they think of this, or that? Every word is questioned according to what a critic might say. Certain faces float across my screen. Covering my ears does no good because I can still hear them.

(The truth is, I know exactly why I’m this way. Someday I’ll share the story, which will explain everything from why I am this way to how I ended up where I am in life.)

But I resolve to drown these voices out, or chop through them as though I were charging through a jungle with a machete. Anyone who’s been around here a while knows there’s no one more down on themselves than I am. But I’ve decided that if this is important to me, for whatever reason, then I owe it to myself to do it. If nothing is to come of it, then I want nothing to come of it because I finished it and got it out of my system, not because imaginary people told me it wasn’t worth the trouble.

6 Nov, 2021

Hetty, N.E USA

Author: Workers' Archive

Covering sensitivity at work and beyond on my website:

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