I am not James Joyce. My stream of consciousness is not fascinating, erudite, witty, or evocative. Oh, it has moments, but those moments are precious nuggets drowning in a literary quagmire. My first drafts are painfully awful. They are incomplete, they ramble, they repeat, they trail off.
That’s why Mark Twain invented editing. OK, he didn’t’ really invent it, but he deserves some credit for simply writing the following line: “The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.”
Editing is how you make writing into something worth reading. So why oh why then, is it so hard to motivate myself to start an editing project?
First, it requires a critical stance (I have to unlove my draft). Second, it murders all my little darlings (I have to delete all those misplaced literary gems). Third, it often demands more focus and energy than writing (I have to keep the whole darn thing ‘in my head’ to know what can and cannot as well as should and should not be moved, rewritten or cut). It doesn’t help that editing is also sorely lacking in the pure creative joy that propels writers through to the completion of a first draft. Wouldn’t it be great if there were some strategy for getting motivated about editing? Something, say, like the excitement generated by National Novel Writing Month?
If NaNoWriMo is fabulous at motivating people to stay the course, meet a deadline, and finish a draft, it ends at what Mark Twain considered the beginning. Now before anyone’s panties get in a twist, I know full well that many who participate in NaNoWriMo do indeed spend time editing when November is over. But when they do, they’re back on their own, without the motivational support and deadlines. What if there were widgets and group support and public applause for meeting daily editing goals? What’s stopping me from simply declaring the birth of National Novel Editing Month (NaNoEdMo for short, of course) and going with it?
Well, two things. The first is that editing is unquantifiable and not so easily trackable. The beauty of NaNoWriMo is its simplicity; it counts words. Editing is inherently non-linear; it deletes, rearranges, adds, and tweaks. Imagine the absurdity of a widget that counts the daily number of words deleted from a work in progress. Or the complexity of assessing the amount of progress made in finding a new home for a misplaced scene.
Luckily (and this is the second reason I’m not declaring a new NaNoEdMo month) someone else has already done all the work! At NaNoEdMo.net, you can join an on-line group that rewards and supports editing a manuscript in 30 days. Instead of counting words, they count hours—to succeed you have to log in 50 hours of editing in the month of March. Which, by the way, is just two weeks away. Just enough time to get motivated, conquer your fears, organize your strategy, end your excuses, and log in.
So, if any of you out there want to see your first draft as a beginning not an end, but you need a deadline and a support group, then go to NaNoEdMo!
Cartoon of Mr. Eraser courtesy of john-alan at deviantART.com