Editing and Temporal Distance

Look, I've said a lot of things about Wymore that might give you the wrong idea. He has the heart of an innocent child. His collection is really quite extensive. He also has the body of an Olympic athlete.

This week I want to talk about emotional distance and editing.

The time will come in your career, when you no longer have the luxury of taking ten years to write a book. I'm looking at you, Martin. In the meantime, I want to talk about stepping back from a book, and the effect that has on your ability to edit your work.

I see too many writers who can't put down a manuscript. They circulate from writer's group to writer's group, rewriting the same book over and over. They are determined that this will be the book that they publish. It's probably the first book in a ten book series.

Needless to say, this tactic is doomed to fail.

To edit a book objectively, you need emotional distance. This is a skill that you learn over time. I expect Scalzi or Correia can get to the place they need to be in a matter of days. Maybe hours. I don't know. I've never asked.

But if you're reading this, I'm assuming you aren't a successful writer. If you are, Hey. How ya doing? See you next Comic Con.

This is a skill I've been thinking about as I write the sequel to Death by Clichรฉ. You see, I'd LOVE to submit the book in the spring. But I won't finish writing it until about the New Year. That's not a lot of time for rewrites.

My usual tactic is to allow at least a full book's worth of writing between drafts in a book. At least six months of time for the book to percolate in my head. If I take enough time, I know that when I come back to the book, I won't be married to the words any longer. I can study them objectively.

Because we love what we write, and often the things we love the most are the ones that are the ones we most need to cut. That takes a level of objectiviness that's hard to maintain.

I can't remember if I've said it on this blog before, but being a professional writer requires a strange blend of abilities. You have to believe in something completely when you're writing it and when you're submitting it. You also have to be able to drop it and move on with a shrug when it's time. Sometimes that refers to a line of text. Sometimes your favorite joke. Sometimes an entire novel.

Some of the biggest problems I see appear during the late portions of a writer's career is when they lose this ability, and yet they are too big to be rejected. We've all seen that happen.

I have hope. At least with the sequel to Death by Cliche, I see a change in how I'm handling my writer's group. I don't have the time to be precious about my stuff anymore. When they tell me something isn't working, I'm eager. I don't feel the level of pain I've felt taking criticism in the past.

And that means maybe I've developed that crucial skill.

Or maybe the next book will suck. I'm genuinely excited to find out which it's going to be.