Aug 16, 2013

In Praise of the Internal Editor

We're talking about revisions today, probably because I'm right in the middle of revising a couple of manuscripts myself. Revisions aren't easy. They require time, work, and an unemotional look at the words you've written. But for me, revisions are where the magic happens. I drag myself through the first-draft process kicking and screaming just so I can get to the revisions and make the mess I've created something worth reading. With that in mind . . .

Many of the craft workshops a writer takes during her career will be geared toward the Internal Artist, but revisions are almost entirely the bailiwick of your Internal Editor. She’s the one who must take what your Internal Artist has created (Oh! so joyfully) and turn it into something that's worth other peoples' money.

The Internal Artist is usually a delightful person to be around and we extol her virtues endlessly in the writing world, but invite her into the revisions process and you’ll begin to see her less attractive side. She takes offense at criticism and she’s so enamored of the colors in her palate, she can’t see the structure of the canvas.

If you allow your Internal Artist to critique her own pages, you’ll get over-the-top reactions to what’s there. She’ll either think it’s the worst drivel ever written or a gloriously golden combination of words that needs nothing but a minor tweak here and there. She may have real trouble viewing the work with the same compassionate distance she’d show to another writer's manuscript, and she’ll gloss over the problem areas she does find, excusing them away as unimportant. The Internal Artist knows she’s a genius, and she doesn’t hesitate to say so.

The Internal Editor is much more logical and less emotionally connected to the words on the page. She's capable of seeing clearly what's in front of her and of giving it a logical assessment. She's also capable of seeing what's not there, and that's extremely valuable. 

If drawing the line between your two halves is difficult for you, I suggest you spend some time learning how to recognize both halves of your creative self. I promise you they’re both there. They’re both wonderful people and both absolutely necessary to the creative process. Knowing which jobs to assign to each can make a big difference in the end result when you finish with your manuscript.

One of the things I started doing in the very beginning of my career was to allow each of my creative identities a different place to work. Now, I know this may sound silly and even a little excessive to some, but I had a real problem getting all those ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ and ‘nevers’ out of my head when I sat down to write. I worked a demanding full-time job and I was a single mother with two young children. With limited time at my disposal, I was desperate to find a way to make the best use of every minute. Believe it or not, it’s even more important now that I write full-time. Now that I have ‘endless time’ (huge laugh!) at my disposal, I can find more ways to fritter away my days than you can possibly imagine.

Wherever you decide to work on your revisions, try doing it somewhere other than the place where you create your manuscripts. This will help you throw a mental switch that lets the Internal Artist run off to frolic in a meadow while the Editor digs in and gets to work.

For me, this means printing the scene, the chapter, the proposal, or the manuscript and working on it anywhere but my computer. The computer is reserved for the intimate creative work. Yes, it takes paper, toner and pens to work this way, but the end result is well worth the relatively small amount of money I spend on office supplies. My Editor’s eye can see and my brain can catch things on the printed page that it simply doesn’t see on the computer screen.

I’ve suggested this to people before, and I’ve seen eyes glaze over and felt walls go up as people begin to offer all the reasons why this isn’t a good idea for them. I will be the first person to agree that everyone works differently and some things don’t work for everyone. But if you’re feeling resistant to this idea, ask yourself one question before you discount the idea completely:
Are you currently experiencing all the success you would like to be experiencing in your career?
If the answer to that question is no, then ask yourself if it’s worth a few short weeks out of your life and a ream or two of paper to see if it could work for you. Maybe it will make a difference. Maybe it won’t. But isn’t worth the chance?

Excerpt from Spinning Straw into Gold: The Art and Craft of Revisions coming soon in Kindle format.

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