Thoughts on Editing


I’m reading Susan Bell’s book The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself and unearthing gems that speak to me.

First, this bit reassures me: “A writer generates anxiety as a lamp does heat.” (8)

Recently, I’ve found myself frustrated and anxious over my writing process. I write in fragments and bits, with many stops and interruptions–and that isn’t likely to change, given my other obligations. I fear the choppiness seeps into my writing and prevents me from finding the natural flow and direction of the work. Short pieces seem to fare better under these circumstances and I’ve shaped several short stories that bring me joy. But I worry how the fragmentation affects my novel-length projects.

I strive to release the anxiety. I remind myself that macro-editing can smooth and finesse the wrinkles in the worst of pieces. I will trust my editing process.

Second, I am constantly on guard against forcing my narrative in Rising Wolf, instead of allowing it to grow. I’m challenged by this novel, perhaps because I have too many set goals for it. Susan Bell discusses the necessity of releasing preconceptions. She urges us to recognize the difference between the piece we intend and the piece we must write; the distance between what we think we “should” do and what we must do.

I’ve already restarted this project once and scrapped about 30k words in the process. One tidbit from Bell: F. Scott Fitzgerald scrapped 18k words in a rewrite of The Great Gatsby–Bell uses Gatsby to source specific examples throughout her book and I’m fascinated by Fitzgerald’s writing process, not to mention his relationship with his editor. In The Artful Edit, several writers discuss the necessity of restarting works in a looping writing process where subsequent drafts retain only resonances to prior starts.

I will ask myself: Is this working? Is this working on its own terms, not according to some static “should” expectation?

Third, I think a lot about tension in my writing, but I want to re-envision tension as structure. While the two are interrelated, structure brings connotations of concrete physicality. If I drew my work, what is its shape? I’m a highly visual person. Shapes, patterns, drawings–these are things I need to incorporate into my editing process.

I’m not yet finished with The Artful Edit, but I’d recommend it to my fellow authors.

In the comments, I’d love to hear what books on editing (or writing?) you’ve found helpful.

Happy writing–and happy editing!



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