Editing

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No politics tonight. Don’t worry, I’ll be back with that when I’ve caught my breath, shook off a bit of this depression, and found some hope again. Okay, so maybe worry a little. This week, a friend posted a meme stating that Donald Trump is trying to give our country back to us but half the people are too stupid to realize it. This particular friend suffered a tragedy some years ago and I did my best to love and support her through it. That’s what we’re here for and how God redeems the tragedies we’ve suffered: we can walk with others through theirs.

But them’s fightin’ words, aren’t they? Sorry, ain’t they? They are. You know they are. They’re intended to be. But I’m trying to confront and be a peacemaker, using the means of peace to seek the ends of shalom. Both sides seek to provoke, but I see no gain in that. Confronting and provoking can and should be different. We must make them different, or there’s no hope for going forward together. So that’s buzzing in my brain and, precisely because of that, instead I’m going to write about writing.

I’m describing my creative process, specifically editing. I’m not attempting to teach, step-by-step, how to edit here. If you’re interested in having me write about that, let me know. This topic may be as self-indulgent as it gets, but I love to read books on how other writers go about their craft. That’s at least one of me who finds it interesting.

Composing and editing use different parts of the brain. I’m in a significantly different mindset when I’m doing one versus the other. Composing requires letting yourself get the words down in the first place. At that stage, The Editor has to shut up or, at the very least, sit in the back and comment only when absolutely necessary.

Here’s the rub–The Editor always thinks it’s necessary. I hate misspelling words in texts. When I look back at a Facebook post later and realize I’ve made a grammatical error, I shudder. Literally, I have a physical reaction. The Editor, I mean to say, has a strong personality. Tommy Shelby, Tyrion Lannister, Hermione Granger strong: “When I speak I think I’m right and therefore I’ll push for what I say, not merely ‘here’s my opinion, take it or leave it.'” With each of those characters, they’re right often enough to reinforce that practice. But they’re not always right; they just think they are.

So it is with The Editor, but what The Editor always forgets–no, refuses to acknowledge–is that, were it to get absolute run of the show, I The Writer would by now have written three sentences in my life. They would, of course, be three sentences of such exquisite, heart-piercing beauty as to have changed the course of the human race. So believes The Editor.

Do you understand why The Editor doesn’t get to speak much during composition? As I said, The Editor isn’t wrong all that often. “Yes, that is a better way to express it.” “Yes, you’re right, that should be more concise.” “Yes, that is passive construction and I need to use active verbs.”

For me, composing is more fun. Composition is free-wheeling, go-where-I’m-led, let the Spirit flow and the muse sing. When composing, everything feels possible.

Editing is tighten that screw. Use 80 grit sandpaper…now 150…okay, 360…360 again…and again…do you have 500? Editing is it’s never good enough for government work. When editing, everything is not possible, and the best version of what you’ve got right now becomes the only thing possible.

Editing has a satisfaction to it, even if it’s never fully satisfied.

I include more words than necessary. I write sentences too long. I use extraneous words. I overwrite.

Frequently, I have to edit for tone because I almost always write expressing how I’m feeling right now. That is one joy of being an ENFP.* If setting, theme, voice, and tone equal literary “mood,” you could deconstruct most of my writing, virtually every first draft, and with a ninety-two percent rate of accuracy identify my emotional state at the time I wrote it. But when I’m writing a serious piece, say about grieving and death, and I can’t stop making quippy asides (the way I love to do in parentheses), I can also feel The Editor at the back of the room, cracking knuckles, bouncing knees, grinding teeth.

I’m trying to say a writer needs both The Editor and The Composer. I’m going to write about The Composer second–just to be difficult–but I’ve already described my creative process in other posts.

I think if you have no perfectionism in you, you probably can’t be a writer.** If your perfectionism keeps your writing from ever seeing the light of day, you also can’t be a writer. Finding the balance might be the hardest thing about writing. No work has ever been edited “enough,” nothing is ever “done,” yet at some point you let it go, you send it out into the world, and you live with the results. I remember a day, when I first started writing seriously, in which I got stuck on one sentence. I literally spent my entire writing day revising that single sentence, tinkering with it, then changing it back. I knew there was a perfect way to express it, a word that would capture everything I needed.

That short story never got published. There might be a lesson here.

I have grown in my ability to keep The Editor in the back of the room until the appropriate time. Of course all of this is a little fuzzier, a little less clear-cut than I’m making it out. There aren’t three of us, Composer, Editor, and The Writer/I rotating around the keyboard. But for me, allowing myself to say it however it needs to come out the first time is the difference between writing and no writing.

Here’s the paradox: the freer you become to let that first draft run wild, the more you need The Editor to come in and edit. I’ve loosened up in being able to spot-edit a section when The Composer gets stuck and then come back later to continue the first draft. Whereas before, if I let The Editor at a first draft, I’d never get the bastard to the back of the room again. The Composer and The Editor now can almost–almost–live as roommates without fighting.

*Meyers-Briggs Personality Inventory, or MBTI (Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator)

**I say “probably” because there are always exceptions and there’s probably some nauseating soul out there who can compose without needing to edit. I don’t think I’ve ever said this before, but if that’s you, I don’t want to hear from you.

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