I’ve been thinking about how we humans clean things up. Sometimes, we do it begrudgingly, sometimes compulsively. How we feel (and how close we are to a deadline) usually determines whether our efforts are frantic or methodical. When rushed or pressured, we can get rid of stuff we really should’ve kept, and I think this applies to editing, too.
As writers, we’re close to our work. It’s not quite “us,” but it’s very personal. Our heart and imaginative soul has been poured into the whatever we wrote, and it can be a challenge to modify it or take words away…or to know which words to add. So here are some emotional moods to consider:
- Happy. You’d think this is the perfect mood to edit in. After all, things are going well, so you can handle a little self-criticism, right? Well, maybe, but if you’re in the sort of happiness that doesn’t budge, you might end up overlooking flaws as you see only the good, the perfect, and the delightful in what you’ve written. And it’s quite possible that editing could ruin your good mood, unintentionally.
- Depressed. When you’re already down, it might not be wise to come at your novel with your editing tools. A pair of shears could quickly turn into a battle-ax as you pare away the whole thing, bemoaning your original story idea and determining the whole thing isn’t worth your time.
- Frustrated. If you start editing when you’re frustrated at someone or something else, it’ll probably come through into your work. You might attack you writing pet peeves harder than necessary, add more blood and gore, or skim through story elements that you don’t enjoy (description, perhaps), moving on to something you like because you’re already upset.
- Hurried. Unfortunately, this can be the mood of many authors when they hit the editing stage. They’ve written the story, designed the cover, and can’t wait to see it out in the world, so they rush through editing, trying to make it to the big release day. They do edit, but their emotional state urges them through it so fast that they can’t always see what might be changed to make it better. And being in a hurried state almost guarantees that you’ll be looking at tiny fixes–grammar errors or word changes, rather than adding whole scenes or plot lines, no matter how helpful the latter might be.
- Thoughtful. Ideally, this is the state you want when editing. You want a pinch of braced-for-criticism with a healthy dose of appreciation, and you want the wandering, contemplating, imaginative “What if” still in play so that you can do both the big edits–or developmental editing–and the little ones like fixing misspelled words.
This is why I encourage authors to try to work with someone else when it comes to editing. You can’t always be thoughtful all the time, and that makes sense, but your beta readers, book coaches, and fellow writers won’t cause the damage you could by editing in the wrong mood. If they’re depressed, they might feel better finding all the flaws in your story, as it reminds them that they’re a better writer than they thought. If they’re frustrated, they might take it out on your work by giving you too many comments, but you can always filter this by responding to their list when you’re in a thoughtful mood. And, if you’re working with a professional editor, they have probably developed the art of getting into a thoughtful mindset and tuning out their feelings to where they can give you “just the feedback, thank you.”
What about you? What emotions do you find unhelpful for editing?
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Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren
Photo by cohdra, Creative Commons