Friday, April 25, 2014

I Edit My Stories Too Much

I'm a perfectionist. This isn't always a good trait for a writer.

I once explained in a blog post about a class assignment where we were to share a rough draft with the class that "to ease my paranoia that if nobody likes [my story] I'm a failure as an aspiring author I've recruited four of my closest friends to read it over before I submit it to class." Essentially, instead of a rough draft, I presented my class with a third draft that I'd had edited by a peer. The result was mostly positive, as I noted in my post summarizing the student responses, but I've since begun to learn of the drawbacks to this mentality of perfectionism.

This is a screenshot of the first few pages of my novel after I've taken to editing it. Using Microsoft Word's "track changes" feature, it kept track of all of my changes by coloring additions red, and marking deletions in comment bubbles on the right side of the page. Bear in mind that what little black text you see was already edited numerous times without the "track changes" feature.

The thing to keep in mind is that I haven't written the story much beyond the pages you see here. I went back and started editing the only few chapters I had written, rather than going on and just writing the rough draft. Mostly every writer I've encountered has said that you must simply get through the first draft, no matter what, before going back and editing.

Obviously I didn't feel this way. I was coming up with new ideas for scenes I'd already written, and wasn't satisfied with the characters' personalities as I had originally envisioned them. Obviously it's good that I was thinking of improvements, and it was probably okay to go back and make edits, if only to get a clearer vision for what I would write next.

The problem is that I'd gone back and edited those chapters so many times (often rewriting entire scenes), that if I had just kept on writing, I would at least have more content to show for my effort.

Let me be clear: I'm still conflicted about how I should be writing. I would absolutely love to go back and edit what I have until I feel it is perfect, but I also know that I may never be 100% satisfied, and that future, unwritten events in my novel might require me to change the beginning chapters yet again. Essentially I was setting myself up to be stuck in a never-ending cycle of edits and revisions.

In an attempt to snap myself out of it, I gave my fiancée a copy of what I've written (sans red edits) without making edits that I'd already had in mind. I forced myself to hand over my work, knowing full-well that there are specific scenes that I absolutely hate.

Hopefully she disagrees.

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