Coming up with a story, and writing it out to THE END, is extremely difficult. But It was something I knew I could do. I had written full drafts of novels before, and when I went into my MFA program what wound up being my thesis project was already almost “done.” After spending the first half of semester one pushing through to the end, it was time to start editing.
And that was the problem.
I spent the next two years learning how to recognize what wasn’t working in my novel and how to cut things out and rewrite practically the entire thing multiple times without losing patience or motivation. I worked on finding the correct words and sentences, how alter things just enough that all my characters felt real, and my main character was at the forefront of the story. I am miles away from where I was two years ago. And it is still so hard.
Even now, after graduation, as I went through my story line by line to fix it up before shipping if off to early readers, I had trouble figuring out what the cut, what to change, what to shift around. I stare at the screen, and feel like I don’t know what to do. Then I worry that if I peck at it too long, I’ll grind the entire thing into mush. So I ship it off, feeling like there is so much I must have missed.
Editing is so hard, and it’s difficult to know when you’re done. But, it’s also fun. First of all, I have more stamina for edits; though it’s still draining, I can more easily plop in my chair and work at it for an hour. Meanwhile, 10 minutes of writing completely new material knocks me out. When I’m not in the rush of spilling out the story before my train of thought crashes, I can take the time and come up with better words, more interesting descriptions, even figure out my metaphors. I have the leisure to dwell on whether or not a comma should go here, or there. And coming up with rewrites can actually be more self-affirming than writing the first draft: sure, I’m realizing that my first try didn’t cut it, but now I’m seeing more threads, more opportunities for what my story can be and where it can go.
Editing (and rewriting — they’re different, I know) is the thing I haven’t figured out quite yet. I don’t actually believe that I’ll ever completely get it. But like any part of writing, it’s its own fun, and arriving at this stage in a project is actually quite a relief.