I’m currently going through the editing process, so hang onto your butts, boys, girls and others, because ranting may happen.
Confession: I love the editing process. I love everything about it: I love the satisfaction of fixing problems with my writing, I love the tweaking and the rewriting, I love watching the wordcount change as I add or remove scenes, and I sure as sugar love complaining about it constantly.
Isn’t it great? It’s the one part of writing writers are allowed to both unironically love and unironically hate at the same time. You sit there and you bang your head or hands against the keyboard, cursing yourself for being so stupid as to write this tripe in the first place, and then feel all warm and glowy once you’ve fixed a problem.
I feel like editing is the one place in writing where novel writers have actual milestones to work towards. If you’re anything like me as a writer, you have no idea how long the story’s going to be when you’ve finished. This is referring to novel writing only, obviously – academic writing, journalism, and anyone who writes to short story submission criteria can safely ignore this section. But even outliners, who have a very certain idea of where the story will go, often don’t know the actual wordcount for their finished piece. I always “aim” for around 90,000 words, that is, whenever anyone asks me how long my book will be, or when I’m considering how many months the first draft should take, I use 90,000 words as my estimate. My actual book lengths? Vary from about 83,000 words to about 107,000 words (as of current drafts). This means, while you can sit down and go “Yes! I finished another 10,000 word milestone!”, it feels a little meaningless, because it doesn’t actually tell you how much closer to your goal you are. You have no goal.
Editing, on the other hand? I have a little red list of all the problems, and when one is fixed, I cross it off the list. It’s really easy to see how far along I am. I fixed four problems with my novel this week – that’s 5% of my 86-problem list!! At this rate, I’ll be done in 20 weeks!
Or, at least, it could if THE DARN LIST WOULD STOP RESPAWNING.
Big edits throw all these lovely things I just said out of the window, because there is nothing a writer can possibly do that will stop a big edit messing up a whole lot of smaller edits along the way. Restructure your book so the pacing is tighter? Get ready to go back and fix all the continuity errors! Kill a character at the end of the book? Yay, retconning your foreshadowing! Remove scenes and themes? Hope you remember where all the references to that are, because you’re going to be picking them out of the story like Cthulhu picks souls out of its teeth after a meal.
The upshot of this is: If you ever have a writer friend, and you’re waiting on their book to get through edits, please understand that whatever time frame they give you will likely expand, probably by three months at least. They’re not trying to annoy you. They’re just playing infinite whack-a-mole against their brain.
But I swear they’re probably enjoying it anyway.