Step away from the keyboard!

I have a confession to make.

I’m a serial edit-and-polisher. I mean it – I’m totally addicted to that part of the process of writing.

paper scrap PMIt takes me forever to write my first draft because every time I open my document, I think, “Well, I’d better read what I wrote last time so I know where I was at” … and two hours later, I still haven’t written any new words because I’ve been faffing with the old ones.

Once my first draft is written – eventually – then I can really get stuck in. This is the bit I love best – taking the words that fell untidily from my brain onto the keyboard and making them shine. I will rewrite a sentence over and over until I’m satisfied with it. Anything that grates as I re-read my work will drive me mad until I make it right.

Okay, so at this point I know you’re probably worrying a little about my sanity, but please don’t. I’m a pernickety so-and-so and I enjoy doing this.

Yes, I’m a writer, but do you know what word I like best? Wordsmith. That’s me. I will tweak and pummel until I know my manuscript is the best it can possibly be. And when an editor points out where it could be even better, I will happily oblige because I know they are probably right – if something has jarred with them, then it would have jarred with the reader.

As you will have guessed by now, this means that writing is not a quick process for me. After the first draft, there will be a second draft, and a third, and a fourth … you get the picture.

Aside from the time issue, there are a couple of other downsides to this obsessive perfectionism.

keyboardI often know the manuscript so well in my head that I end up putting back in the phrases I took out several drafts ago – a bit like when you’re sitting an exam and checking it over at the end, and you stare so long at it that you end up changing a perfectly good answer to a wrong one.

But the main thing is, I need to learn to recognise when the poor thing is screaming for mercy and just let it be – to step away from the keyboard and accept that I can do no more.

I’m almost at that point with my current manuscript. Almost. Maybe one more run through, just in case …

If you’re a writer, do you love or hate editing? I’d love to hear about it.

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21 thoughts on “Step away from the keyboard!

  1. jenanita01 says:

    Having edited other peoples books for so long, I thought I loved the job. Now I have to do my own, and it’s a different kettle of fish. That way madness lies, I’m afraid!

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Hi, thanks for the visit. Yes, I think it must be very different doing someone else’s compared to doing your own. I would be itching to change too much on someone else’s, I suspect! Thank you for the reblog 🙂

  2. Marie Laval says:

    I am very much like you, Helen. It was so interesting last weekend at the RNA conference to listen to Julie Cohen encourage us to write and finish the first draft without editing anything. She said the editing (both macro and micro) could come after. I wish I could work like that. Maybe one day!

  3. Paula Martin says:

    I’m exactly the same as you, Helen – in fact, I could have written this blog! I tweak and tidy up as I go along, and once the first draft is (finally!) done, I rewrite, edit, polish the whole thing several times. So glad I’m not the only pernickety obsessive!

  4. Karen says:

    I am SO like you! Thanks for your honesty about the editing monster who sits on your shoulder. Perhaps you should feed him and not swat him. After all, your books are written beautifully.

  5. rosgemmell says:

    I love the editing part, Helen, but I definitely don’t spend as much time on it as I go along. I’m trying to aim for finishing a first draft then taking time to enjoy the editing but I’m not quite there yet. But I need to work that way if I ever want to finish all the work started and laid aside!

  6. Jacqueline Seewald says:

    Hi, Helen,

    Yes, I too am obsessive about editing as I go. I also go through the work, rewrite and re-edit many times before sending it to a publisher. I taught creative writing for a number of years and so tend to be very particular. However, when I sent THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER to Astraea/Clean Reads, I ran into an editor who was even more particular than I was. The book actually went through EIGHT more edits before she was satisfied. Truthfully, I thought it was well-written before the edits began. But there does come a time when too much editing can work against an author. The book can be over-written as you observe.

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Good grief, 8 edits after you’d already given it your all – eeek! I think you’re right that we can overdo it sometimes, Jacqueline – it’s just knowing when to stop 🙂

  7. Sara Turnquist says:

    I am like you with the obsessive editing and reworking…but I can only take so much editing before I absolutely abhor it. It’s like, I want to move onto something new already…but I’m too much of a perfectionist to not do the obsessive editing. It’s a catch 22. Thanks for the post. I can totally relate!

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Thanks for the visit, Sara – it’s becoming clear I’m not alone on this! (Thank goodness). I know what you mean about wanting to move onto something new – I’m at that stage now but it’s like I can’t allow myself to, until I’ve got this one perfect. 🙂

  8. Kimber Leigh Wheaton says:

    That was me when I wrote Shadow Fire. But I learned over time that things worked better for me if I tried to write the first draft straight through without editing. Crazy, I know. It wasn’t until I became an editor that things clicked for me. I can’t edit my own work. It’s impossible because I will never see the manuscript as it needs to be seen– by someone who knows nothing about the story or characters. I do still edit my work to a certain extent, but two read-throughs is the limit for the first round. Then it goes off wherever it needs to go, and I move on to something else. I think we all need to let go of this esoteric idea of perfection. Nothing will ever be perfect. I didn’t realize how many errors were in most books until after I became an editor. It’s a good thing I read on a Kindle– it limits the desire to grab a red pen while I read 🙂

  9. April Munday says:

    I also edit obsessively, but not as I go along. My first draft is little more than a sketch, which I expand and then edit as I think of better ways to say what I first thought. I have to be very happy with it before I can let someone else read a manuscript.

  10. Cynthia Port says:

    Yes, I am the same. Edit as I write and then edit, edit, edit. My current series is middle grade humor, so I am always tweaking for more and better humor, livelier and more outrageous characters. And, of course, I also edit for my “real job.”

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