Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Wood vs. Word

Or ‘stop me before I edit again…’



I should have decided to be a carpenter instead of a writer…  It would have been so much easier.

I do a little woodworking on occasion.  Chiefly I make coffee tables with tile insets.  Nothing really fancy, but I enjoy it, and they’ve come out pretty well.  People really seem to like them, and it gives me a real sense of pride, of having accomplished something creative.

And with building a table, there’s a definite process to it. A beginning and a finished product. You can see where you’re going, how to get from that beginning cut to that final coat of stain. Whether you buy a plan, or just design something in your head and build it, you pretty much know what you’re doing and when you’re done with it.  Once you’ve finished a piece you don’t look at it and say ‘Wow, the legs should have been shorter’ and whack them off; and then look at it again and realize that no, they really should have been just a little bit longer and have to re-do the whole thing.  There’s very little editing in carpentry.

Not so in word-working. The basic process is the same: I get an idea and decide to ‘make’ it. I create something that represents that idea. But even when I type ‘The End’, it’s really not the end. That story’s still lurking in the guts of my computer, just waiting for me to make changes. I can tweak it to my heart’s content. Too much description in Chapter Three? No problem, just edit it down. Descriptive anomaly in Chapter Seven? Global replace will fix make those brown eyes blue in a jiffy. 

And there’s really no end to it. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I can go back and re-read and decide that things need to be changed around again… and again… and again… ad infinitum. Maybe it was easier to call a book done in the days of the manual typewriter, since no one really wanted to go back and re-type the whole thing again just to make a couple of minor changes. 

With carpentry, you can look at something and say ‘it’s done!’. With a story or a novel how do you know when to stop tinkering with the darned thing? Technology gives a writer the ability to edit and fix and change and tweak until his eyes cross and his tee’s dot. And it almost becomes an addiction. ‘Just one more edit,’ you mutter, even when you know one won’t satisfy you. Like potato chips or m&m’s, you can never have just one. 

I’m currently awaiting the editorial letter for my debut novel, TRAITOR KNIGHT. That will give me one good final crack at making any needed changes and calling it finished and ready for publication. But deep down, I’m a little worried that even after the book is published (in July), I’ll still be wanting to make changes. That I’ll read back through the final copy and go “Meh, that sentence is awful. Can I change that?”

Nope.

Anyone else find themselves with a malignant case of ‘can’t stop editing’? Does it keep you from sending out your story to your agent or publisher? Or have you learned the magic spell that allows you to say ‘finitum’ and mean it?

3 comments:

January Bain said...

Ah, yes, Keith, I have been there! So hard to let your baby go. Perfectionism, I've read, can become an obsession to the point the novel beoomes too bright, too brilliant for the reader. And how to stop yourself and know when? Somewhere between sloppy and too bright, but it's darn hard to know the exact spot. I'm not certain anyone really knows for sure. You give your heart to your characters, tell their story the best way you know how, and at some point you call it a day. And then pray someone reads it! Have a great day. Best, January

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

My dad made "antiques" in the basement. He had fewer frustrations than I do. But for us, the word is perfection.

You'll know when the first book signing is over and you have spent the day telling everyone the positive things about your book that it is completed to "perfection."

Veronica Helen Hart said...

My husband is like you. He reworks, reworks, and reworks to the point I fear his will lose his story in the effort to perfect the writing. I'm pretty much, two or three drafts, edit and forget it writer. I do, however, find that when I reread my published works, I sometimes cringe and think, "I could have said that so much better," or "My God, did I write that?"