I talk about how self editing can be bad, how it stopped me from ever completing a story and the epiphany I had during NaNoWriMo.
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This is episode 8, and we will be talking about self editing. If you listened to the last episode, which was about NaNoWriMo, you will have heard me talk about how this was one of my bad habits, and how NaNoWriMo and a guest writer helped me with this.
So first off, in case your wondering what exactly self editing is, it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s when you improve your own writing by correcting spelling and grammar mistakes, honing your word choice, revising the structure of your sentences or even the whole story. Your basically trying to improve your writing. This in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. We do it when we write emails and letters, and sometimes when we post to social media. I say sometimes because sometimes there are posts that are very definitely in need of some self editing, but I digress. If you are writing a story, be it short or a full length novel, you will at some point self edit, when you are working on subsequent drafts. This is not what I am talking about however.
When I talk about how self editing was one of my bad habits, what I’m talking about is self editing myself to the point that I would finally give up, because I would convince myself that it was never going to be good enough. You see, I had never self edited a completed story, because I had never completed one. I was self editing while I was writing. Writing for me used to look something like this:
I would get an idea for a story and I would sit down and write for however long. In this example, we’ll say I wrote for an hour. After that hour, I put my writing away. The next day, I would sit down to continue writing, but before I wrote anything new, I would go back and edit what I had written previously. Once that was completed, I would continue to write. This would continue each time I sat down to write. I would eventually see the edited stuff alongside the new, as yet unedited stuff, and to me it would be horrible.
What I was doing, albeit unintentionally, was comparing it to the likes of Stephen King and Clive Barker, and their finished manuscripts. It never occurred to me that these writers, and all other writers, published works were the finished result, not the first draft. The books we read are the result of who knows how many rewrites, each draft being gone over by editors and changes made, until at last the story was finished and ready for publication.
It wouldn’t be until NaNoWriMo 2020 that I would break this bad habit, and it wasn’t because I suddenly saw the light and realized what I was doing. It was because of one of their guest writers, Charlie Jane Anders, and the pep talk she gave. You will find a link to her pep talk in the show notes, and I highly recommend that you go read it. I won’t read the whole thing here, but I will read a quote from her talk that resonated with me at the time.
“Your job now is not to create a manuscript that a publisher will want to sell at lemonade stands all over the country. That comes later, once you’ve done a ton of revision and rethinking. For now, your task is to create a first draft. Or in other words, to make a glorious, beautiful, breathtaking mess. My first drafts, without exception, have always been messy AF and I’ve tried to have as much fun as possible in the process.”
Reading that blew my mind! With just that paragraph, it all became clear to me. Because of her, I realized that I didn’t need to self edit. My only job at that moment was to get the story from my head and onto the page (or computer, since that is what I use to write). Subsequent drafts would be where I would fix things. I went from thinking my writing was garbage to “we’ll fix this in the next draft”. In fact, for awhile, anytime I got the urge to self edit, I would tell myself exactly that: “we’ll fix it in the next draft”. By the end of November, I no longer needed to tell myself that, as I had finally come to accept that I simply needed to get the story out. I know that I can’t be the only one who has this issue. In fact, there was several posts on the NaNoWriMo forums from people who were posting that they were having that exact issue. So, if this is you, know that you no longer need to do this. Your first job as a writer is simply to get the story down on paper. You will fix any issues in your subsequent drafts, and it will be ok.
Stay classy, and write those stories!
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