Maybe it’s because NaNoWriMo has just started, but I find myself editing quite a bit in the last few months. Friends have sent me academic theses, personal essays, narrative stories, science fiction, even magical realism pieces.
And I love it.
I like settling in to read, and if need be, taking apart bits and pieces and reorganizing them to fit into an article that feels right. The idea of taking raw, sometimes jumbled thoughts, and rearranging them – it feels like a puzzle and the satisfaction of making the pieces fit into a cohesive whole. It’s addicting, and I thoroughly enjoy doing it.
One story turned from a very blah piece to one that I thought was really good. I did it again recently, and I’ve been doing it with the handicap of trying to preserve the actual sentences of the writer. I would start at a different place, shuffle swaths of text, and only add a little bit as glue to fuel smoother transitions, cement an ending, or emphasize themes.
In this latest article, I had the idea of layering it. Usually I explain what I did and sometimes do a rewrite in demonstration. But this time I had the idea of doing it piece by piece, rewriting the article for every specific layer and change I focused on – which made sense because the act of actually rewriting clarifies more and more what needs correcting. I realized I did this process mentally with several other articles and they’ve only truly crystallized now. Here’s what I did:
- Layer 1 – Reorganization. Dramatic lede. Better transitions
- Layer 2 – Adding in a personal narrative – present tense that acts a loose scaffold to fill in information and commentary. Adds movement and immediacy
- Layer 3 – Work on a good ending. Ideally should tie themes, symbolism, and connect with the beginning. If not, it should feel….right
- Layer 4 – Details. Descriptions. Color, smells, visualizations – I want the reader to have all senses possible engaged.
- Layer 5 – Thematic pillars. I want to hone in on them – I extract them, then emphasize them
Now obviously not all of this applies to all work. But as someone who feels very stressed writing anything, I wondered at my eagerness to jump into this. And here’s what I think.
I think that when I write I’m visualizing the perfect piece. So my stress jumps – I think I need perfection from the beginning. I worry about turns of phrase. And with all this, my initial starting inertia increases – I need more to actually get me to write, and when I do the flow is all jammed and it’s slow going.
Recently the freedom in editing has been the knowledge that I can have just a jumble of words. But through the editing process I can create something good. Remember, I was trying my best to preserve each writer’s turn of phrase, which for me is very unnatural. How much easier would it be if I was preserving my initial turns of speech even if it was a jumble?
Today during my daily writing I ended up writing 10 times more than what I set forth to do. I did this because I realized that the multiple layers are the things that add the real magic, and those are layers I enjoy. This makes the raw material easier to get out there because I know I’m going to polish it up. I can write a jumble of thoughts and feelings and I know that I can form a great finished product from it.
This might all seem obvious, but I feel it’s a real landmark in my mental process and how I approach my writing.