The challenge of accruing words

by Pari

It’s been more than a year and a half since I started my daily writing. During that time, I’ve missed only one session. For a moment I thought about giving up, the way a dieter does when he or she pigs out on an entire chocolate cake in one sitting and then feels that everything is undone.

But I didn’t give up and now I have hundreds of thousands of words, more each day, and I don’t know what to do with them all. It’s certain that many of those words are superfluous. There are thousands of “ands” and “buts” and, God forbid, the nasties that end in “ly.” 

However, there are probably even more words that link together to make decent — if not brilliant –stories. Again, this is just a hunch; I have no idea if the short stories, novels and novellas I’ve written hang together at all.

Before I took the Master Class, editing had always been a pleasure for me, a time to hone and redo in a better way. In Oregon, I learned that editing can often be the death of a piece — it can suck the spirit and energy out of creative prose and process — though the writer has the best intentions. Since I’m seriously afflicted with thinkiness anyway, I’ve avoided the whole question of how to strike a balance between doing nothing and overdoing the editing (in my creative writing only; my writing at work is subjected to microscopic editing daily). Seventeen months later, I have no answer and a hell of a lot of words that need attention.

Working more than 40+ hours a week puts a dent in the hours I have available for everything else. Those 40 hours aren’t the whole picture either. There’s transport to and from work, coming down from the exhaustion of a full-time job etc. etc. There’s taking care of the kids, the house etc. etc. etc.

Some would say, “Pari, just get up an hour earlier to write when you’re fresh.  That’ll buy you time to edit in the evenings.”

Great idea if I wasn’t already getting up at five so that I can fit in exercise. None of this is complaining; I love my job. I love that I’m writing daily. Perhaps that’s enough . . .

Who am I kidding? Once you have readers and they appreciate your work, you want more. The feeling is too wonderful! Too fulfilling! I want my fiction to be read again!

So what to do? How can I reframe the editing into something as meaningful  — and as pleasurable — as the joy of the creativity so that I can commit again?

Any suggestions?

(BTW: for those that don’t know already . . . the growth I referred to last week was benign. Thank you for all of your kind thoughts. I’m still in pain but it’s bearable now.)

19 thoughts on “The challenge of accruing words

  1. Marina Sofia

    You are amazing to do three jobs at once: PR, writing and parenting, so well done! However, I can hear you loud and clear (between the lines and in the lines) about just how tricky a balance that is! Funnily enough, I've just read a series of complaints from writers that becoming 'full-time' writers nearly meant the end of creativity for them… My only suggestions (from painful personal experience) is to remember an edit is an edit and does not mean rewriting the whole thing…

  2. Sarah W

    Whew!

    First, I'm sorry for your continued pain, but so relieved about the verdict! Are you sick of ice cream, yet?

    I hear you about the time crunch. My work hours probably aren't quite as crazy as yours, but If I set my alarm any earlier, it will go off while I'm brushing my teeth for bed.

    But I follow you on Twitter, and I can't tell you (or I guess I am) how your word count has inspired me to shut everything down—even Words with Friends—and get to work. So thank you.

    I'm better at editing non-fiction–just the facts, ma'am—so I'm not sure I have any tips worth sharing.

    But I know I have an easier time editing stories when I leave them alone for a bit. Not too long, because I want to keep my enthusiasm, but enough so I have a sort of essential detachment that helps me see the difference between what I wanted to write and what actually made it to the page. This detachment also helps me kill perfect sentences (ha! I wish) that have no business being in that particular story.

  3. Pari

    Marina,
    Thank you.
    Good advice on the edit . . . and keeping perspective. I think that was part of the trouble, and has been, in the past. I look at a piece of my work and go, "The entire thing is crap." Not very productive, is that?

    Also, I know when I "worked" full time as a writer, I didn't write much at all. Sheesh.

    Sarah,
    Thank you for the kind words. I'm eating everything now and just endure the soreness.
    I'm so glad you mentioned the word count inspiring you. I sometimes wonder why I keep posting it. But I guess I feel that it keeps me honest and that it shows others that even when you're exhausted, you can get at least a sentence in. The only way to be a writer is to write. No one ever said that that is tied to writing a certain pre-determined amount.

    At least now I don't feel like a fake.

    I, too, find it easier to edit nonfiction. I think it's because I'm just not as attached and, also, because I have a lot of confidence with my technique and ability in this area.

    At this point, I do have a lot of distance from what I've written because I haven't even looked at it in months and months — none of it. I just finish one piece and start another. Poof!

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Pari, editing IS writing. That's ALL I'm doing right now, now that I have a draft of my new book. Read, edit, put in notes. Read, edit, put in notes. Like, forever, until it's done.

    I'm going to be the tough love here and say that it sounds very much like you're using the word "writing" to avoid the very real writing work you need to do on the stories you already have. Maybe it would help you not to freak yourself out that you have to get all the editing done in one pass! Just choose something, read it, and make the barest minimum of notes, then put those in, and read it again. It will be better, I promise you. And the next pass through that way will be better than that, and the next will be even better, until one day you read the new draft and will be thrilled to see that there's a real book, story, novella, whatever there.

  5. Pari

    Alexandra,
    No tough love needed.
    Before this long writing stretch, I spent quite a bit of time editing and editing again . . .
    I do suppose I'm a little scared that I'll squeeze the joy out of the process again – – like I had before — but there's no telling until I do it, right?

  6. Lisa Alber

    Hi Pari,

    Reading this and your response to Alexandra…I hear you on the fear response. Sometimes it's difficult to return to an activity (like dating — but that's a different tale) that has caused us pain in the past. Will we slide back into the bad place again? So I empathize with your hesitation to begin the editing process.

    Is there a different, more gentle method you can use to ease yourself into the editing process? Maybe even just rereading a piece to see what you have. I do that. I tell myself, I'm just reading, no pressure. Inevitably, this leads to more.

    I'm currently rereading what I started during NaNo. I decided the fun thing to do would be to create a chart of my scenes with their essential info (POV character, time/place, action). Inevitably, I see the holes and discontinuities, so I'm making notes about that. I'm seeing a need for a subplot, so I've been thinking about one of the minor characters quite a bit…

    Anyhoo, for me it's about reading that first draft in the spirit of adventure and fun. What exactly did I write anyhow? This is what eases me into the editing process.

  7. ZoΓ« Sharp

    Hi Pari

    Firstly, I'm so pleased the growth turned out to be benign. Must be a big relief. And I'm hugely admiring of your determination to write something every single day. Wow. We are not worthy πŸ™‚

    I can completely understand about not wanting to turn a pleasure into a chore, with the added worry of making things worse, not better.

    I keep a summary of the story either as I go (or done in lumps when I'm finished) and reading through this enables me to hopefully pinpoint the plot-holes in the story, or the problems with pace, etc. It certainly makes edits easier because I can go through the summary and make notes on that about bits to add or remove, without having to go back and forth through the entire t/s, which always seems to make it feel stale more quickly.

    The other thing is reading it out loud. If something's been overworked then it really seems to stand out when it's read aloud. Even better if you can get somebody else to read it back to you, because then they can only put in the emphasis where it is written on the page, not where you, the author, knows it should be.

    Good luck with it all!

  8. Pari

    Lisa,

    What a nice suggestion. Very constructive and helpful given my current mindset. Thank you so much for this.
    (and "dating?" What's that? <g>)

    Zoe,
    Thank you.
    I think that taking a different approach, reading and keeping track to find holes, might indeed be a gentler way to re-enter the process. I like the possibility of it.

    Maybe I'll tackle something smaller — a short story — to see how it goes.

  9. PD Martin

    Editing is such a strange thing for me. There is that sense of the work being finished once you get to the end, but of course it's really only just began. And I guess it also depends what you edit for. I'm sure you know your strengths and weaknesses – areas of your work that don't need to be edited much versus elements that do need editing. When I edit I rarely edit for plot or character development, it's always about finessing the words. And maybe you can still get that sense of accomplishment if you say rather than: 400 words written, 400 words edited.

    I'm 'in between publishing contracts' so I'm also hoping that my work will get out there again soon. But of course, you need to finish something first (including the edits) before you can hope to reach your audience πŸ™‚

    Dive in and stick to the editing!
    Phillipa

  10. KDJames

    I don't know, Pari, this sounds like classic procrastination to me. I'm an expert and I tend to recognize it (in others — I completely overlook it when *I'm* the one doing it).

    You say you used to love editing. Then you say you learned that editing can suck the life out of a piece. You don't say YOUR editing has ever done that, just that now you know it can happen. I suspect you're very good at editing your own work. As Alex, pointed out, it's just writing. And, you know, you're pretty damn good at that.

    You've mentioned here before that you aren't sure what you want to do with your work once it's polished up and ready to go (self-pub v. traditional route). Maybe that's what is really holding things up? Or have you made that decision? I don't recall you saying either way. Because telling yourself editing is the problem is a sure-fire way to avoid having to decide what comes afterward.

    If it sounds like I'm being harsh with you, probably I am. And maybe I'm just projecting and this isn't a problem for you AT ALL. But I went through a long agonizing period of indecision about what to do with the work once it was done and it KILLED my ability to focus on the writing/editing. But now I know exactly what I'm going to do once it's done. It might not work, I might fail horribly, but I've made the decision and have a clear goal. For me, it has made all the difference.

    Just one more thing to consider.

  11. Pari

    Ouch.
    Thanks, I think, KD?
    Maybe it is procrastination. If so, then I CAN deal with that. I think I am sincerely afraid of what my editing can do to my work . . . but since I won't let anyone read anything w/o editing, I guess I just better get cracking.

  12. Debbie

    I'm glad to here the results. I hope that the recovery process picks up and that there are no more scares. Take care Pari.

    I wrote my first novel, found out it was miles too long, gave it a quick edit and spell check, realized that it needs to be rewritten and asked for help from a couple of readers. They tell me it's wonderful and 'blow sunshine'. They also praise it but have not made it to the end. So it's a book for which I will never submit a query letter…even has a reasonably lengthed sequel which could stand alone but wouldn't have the same emotional impact unless coupled with the first. If you find something that works in that editing process let us know! Thanks.

  13. Reine

    Hi Pari, so glad the growth was benign!

    My thoughts on your quest for joy in writing are just that sometimes you hit fun spots while writing, but it is hard work. The joy comes later for me.

  14. KDJames

    So… too harsh? Maybe. I've never been accused of being too tactful. But damnit, Pari, when a writer I consider to be strong and talented and experienced (not to mention one of the most determined and hardest-working people I know) says she's "afraid" to face honing her work for fear of destroying it– well, it makes me feel like a swift kick to the rear is in order.

    I got the same feeling reading this post as I would have if Alex had come over here and said she'd taken a master class on structure and was now really struggling to write because she had serious doubts about her understanding of story structure. I did restrain myself from swearing a blue streak. There's that.

    The fact is that maybe you will never again feel joy in editing. Ignorance is bliss — I'm not saying you were ignorant, but it seems the more I learn about writing, the harder it gets. Maybe there is only satisfaction and relief once you're done. But there IS joy in getting your work into the hands of readers. Focus on that.

    I have absolute faith in your abilities. I KNOW you can do this. So. Just. Do. It.

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