Edit Fever by Alison Burnside
If you’ve seen the infographic on your Facebook feed where novel writing is depicted as an iceberg, perhaps like me you decided not to dwell on what that might mean for your manuscript.
The image shows the iceberg’s small peak above the surface as the first draft, the huge bulk that lurks beneath, the edit. I’ve spent two years researching, writing, scrapping and then rewriting my first draft. If the iceberg metaphor was right I’d need a huge stamina reserve to get me through the edit.
With the first draft in the bag earlier this year, I was eager to move on to a new phase. I read up on editing, bought a ring binder, dividers and even switched to making notes in pencil to herald my change in mind-set from creation to sculpture.
In my reading, I found a general dislike of editing by novel writers. It seems to be regarded as something to be endured rather than enjoyed. So imagine how smug I felt when I found I liked editing. I find story creation akin to laying tracks in the clouds and now I had something to work with and shape.
With the first draft I’d set word count targets. This worked well. A satisfying cushion of words amassing beneath me as the months passed. With the edit, I set myself a deadline, broken down monthly by chapters. Then I discovered a fresh source of research. More time eaten up – I gained new insight and my protagonist developed, but the finish line moved further and further away.
As time went on my impatience to finish the novel grew. I was no longer completely present day to day, I was either thinking about my manuscript, or yearning for it.
Even though every spare minute was going into the novel it didn’t take long to see just how big a job this is. The only way I could reach my deadline would be to compromise on the quality of the story. And this started to dampen my enjoyment. I grew tired of writing in pencil and went back to grabbing the nearest pen.
The edit fever broke eventually. But only once I’d accepted it would be done in its own time, that the down time was as important as the edit time. Plus, I realised there was a reason I’d written in my edit folder something Dawn French had said at my graduation last year ‘genius is perseverance’.
I revisited my first impressions of that iceberg infographic and saw it as more than a depressing warning about how much work and time goes into a writing novel, but also a reminder not to get over excited when you’ve completed the first draft. Better I take my time and rekindle the enjoyment of story that got me started in the first place.