Editing. The word I love to say and love to do… as long as it’s for other people. Yes, I’m one of the sad people who actually will sit there helping to proofread or edit other people’s work. Have I ever been paid for it? No. Although I think I’m competent at it, I feel uncomfortable taking money for something that up until now I’ve always offered to do for free. Part of me knows that’s stupid. After all, I’m currently sat in a house with my parents with no income coming in. Money would certainly help me a lot, but my stubborn brain refuses to accept it for something like editing.
Now, I count myself as very good at editing. Ever since University, when I read an entire book about spelling and grammar (it repeated a lot and was very dull) I’ve been pretty good at utilising it. I also understand flow, syntax, how to write descriptions, how to build characters and when you should ‘tell, rather than show’. I also make sure when helping friends/other writers with editing that I find some positives to tell them so they’re not completely defeated by negatives. I’ve helped edited for University friends (including one who this year, despite having been locked in and isolating since March, has now officially gained her Masters. Woo!); I was in charge of a group of editors who helped edit fanfiction a few years ago and my old computer is riddled with all the stories…
But then it comes to editing my own work. I hate it. I love editing, hate editing my own stories. But why? If I like to edit others work? I’m the sort of person that will say, when editing others work, that there’s good in everything. If you work on the bad things it will only make the good things even better. But, despite this positivity towards others, I look at my own work and I can only groan. These are characters that I love, people I’ve spent my life with. Some of these characters have been inside my head since I was a child. They’re as much my family as my actual family, and closer to me than a lot of them as well.
The thing is, because of this, I want the work to be perfect. I want it to be perfect for these people that I love and that makes me brutal when editing. I will tear into my own stories like a hungry wolf, separated from its pack. By the end there’ll only be a few scraps for the vultures to peck at. It sucks. There’s no formal term for it, it just sucks.
At one point I was so bad that I would delete whole stories from my laptop and throw the paper in the bin, never to see again. Now, I look back at this and curse myself. Even if the writing wasn’t up to standard it was a look into my brain: a brain that has a few good ideas. I could have taken the idea and improved them. Luckily, the majority of my characters remain in my head, but the words disappear.
My Mother monitors my editing these days. She reads it before and she reads it after, knowing full well my tendency to pounce on any perceived mistake. In the past stories that she’s loved have been destroyed in my attempt to perfect them. I assure her that I only do it because I want the words to match the care I have for these plots and characters but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s right. I destroy my works and leave my initial effort pointless.
Now, you could ask whether I edit these pieces before posting them on my blog? Well, you’re reading it, what do you think? No, the answer (at least usually, not always) is no. The truth is, this being myself speaking, makes me even less likely to edit. I have no confidence in myself and I hate to speak about myself in the first person (sometimes even breaking into third, accidentally, in real life as well). I read these posts, occasionally, to my parents to make sure it sounds okay. Then I spend a few days on a picture (yes, it takes me that long) and post it.
I don’t, however, do that with stories or poetry. They have to hit that perfect mark that my voice never will. You can see one of my story collections on this blog: ‘The Street Crawlers’. Now, you may have believed that I’m currently writing them and that’s why it’s been a long time since I posted another one. Nope. I wrote these stories over a course of a few years (starting at 16/17 years old) and finished them about four years ago. I’ve been editing them ever since. Yes, I have all of the stories to post all ready to go on my laptop. I’m just waiting until I’m happy with them and I never am. It took all my courage to put the ones out I have. I still have plans to put out the rest as, at least in my eyes, the best ones are yet to come but editing… it takes me a long time.
Editing for me isn’t just a job to do. It’s a battle with myself, with my emotions and a fight to keep sane. It’s a battle ground where my anger and perfection keep charging at my optimism and determination, knocking them down with hit after hit until they fall to the ground and I walk away. It’s tiring but it’s how it is.
I’m not aware of anybody else feeling this way, but I could be wrong. I know nearly all writers struggle with editing their own work. My friend, who I edit often, comes to me because she reaches a limit on being able to do it herself. But as far as I can tell, the problem she has is that she loves her pieces so much that it’s hard to see the bad in all of the love she has for the piece. I’m the opposite. I see all the bad and none of the good. It puts me in a very negative head space.
So, is anyone else like this? Does anyone else find themselves hating their own work so much that they struggle to edit without seeing red? Or is everyone, like my friend, so in love that they can only see the good? I’d love a sprinkling of your optimism. It would certainly makes things a lot easier (in writing and in life).
Thank you for reading my ranting. This was mostly to serve as an explanation as to why it takes me longer to upload a new post than perhaps I would like. I do plan to upload more Street Crawlers stories, including some of the really good ones (in my personal opinion—actually, that’s a lie, I’m mainly talking about my Mum’s favourite). I have plans for the Books Into Dishes, but again I need time to be able to make them work. Unfortunately, I’m seriously lacking in funds (i.e. I have no funds) which makes it harder to work on dishes that I need money for. I hope that you’re having a good 2021 so far, despite all the misery it seems to be trying to push. Keep writing, keep trying to edit and let’s make 2021 a good year for everyone (characters and real people).
Bonsoir, les ecrivains.
The Literary Onion