Editing Anecdote 1/?

A University of Washington ‘claim-to-fame’ is that no matter where someone is on campus, they are always two minutes away from a coffee shop. As such, a caffeine habit is slowly trickling into place. My dining account is emptying. I get whipped cream on every order and it’s the equivalent of eating sugar by the spoonful out of the bag. It’s terrible for me, and unbelievably great for me at the same time, since around mid-October I told myself I could only get coffee if I did something productive while drinking it.

The cold season was rolling in, too, so at that point, it was pretty much survival.

That’s how I did a large chunk of my revisions: sitting in UW’s Suzzallo library, mocha clasped in both hands, and my manuscript open in front of me. I have to admit, I had never done a rework on this scale before. I would stumble across one sentence I’d read a couple dozen times before and realize that this entire time, it wasn’t quite right. And if this section wasn’t right, the whole chapter might be off, too, and so I went back and I restructured and reworked it and tweaked things until I was sure I’d beaten the entire thing to death. It’s like finding a loose string on your shirt and so you pull at it and the thread just keeps going, until your seams are frayed and you can’t undo it.

Then I washed back my cringe with another sip of coffee, leaned forward, and read the chapter over from the beginning. And I found it to be better, a little better each time. The shirt gets threaded. The coffee’s no longer hot enough to burn my tongue; I moved on to the next chapter.

I found that I had to swallow my pride a little when I was editing—I love every scene I write, but it’s never about a specific scene, it’s about what comes after and what comes before; how the scene strengthens the overall story. So I cut things out, was a little bitter about it, and a little happier afterwards. There’s no point in drinking coffee if you have a caffeine-craving headache beforehand and can’t sit still directly afterwards. All in all, my manuscript crept toward its last draft (eep!), and I drink tea more now.

Take Breaks !

I love the little breakthroughs that pop up during the writing process. It’ll usually go like this for me: I’ll be sitting in front of my computer for an hour plus, staring at the same blank page, forgetting the near entirety of the English language. I hate that little type line that flashes, too, disappearing and reappearing, like the even intervals of silence and ticking of the second hand on a clock. Like it’s counting down. And I do not care for that at all.

So I go out and I get coffee and I come back and watch the line flicker and go watch Netflix and come back and it’ll still be there, of course, ticking, counting, and I’ll go brush my teeth and go to bed and stare at my ceiling as if I can still see it in the dark, without glasses, and then, right when my mind’s off of my writing and I’m cursing my bloodline for giving me less than subpar vision, it hits me. The perfect filler to a plot hole. A way to smooth out the choppiness of a chapter that I less than enjoy. A final line, or the next step, or finally, finally, an idea that I can type out and stop the ticking of that evil little line.

My point is that I’ve learned that it’s okay to take breaks, that it’s okay to have to step away from something, and it’s okay to hit walls. Writing, at least for me, is not something you can force. Let yourself breathe. And then start again.