It's been a productive few writing months. I've entered a contest, fine-tuned my work for a double-critique session in April, and finished a packet to mail off tomorrow for a SCBWI writing grant. My goal has always been to submit one piece of writing SOMEWHERE every month (give or take, deadlines are finicky), and I certainly hit that goal for February and now I'm ahead of the game for March. Today, though, I hit a wall. A very smart, friendly, exactly-what-I-needed sort of wall.
The wall ordered me to stop editing.
I've re-conceived, reread, and rewritten the opening chapter to my newest project at least a dozen times. Probably more but after two or three I stop counting because I've become hopelessly obsessed with getting things right. I change words back and forth. I hunt for misplaced modifiers. I add detail, only to realize it contradicts other details later on causing a terrifying chain of events that makes everything different in the book. Not necessarily better or worse. Just different.
Then I play with tone and dialogue and every other thing I can possibly fuss with. Some of the editing is necessary. Nothing emerges perfect the first time. Ever. Not for me. Not for Hemingway. Not for JK Rowling. (I have to mention Harry Potter at least once in every blog. It's just necessary.) And it drives me insane when students refuse to believe this fact. I teach a high school Creative Writing course, the writers in it are talented and inspiring, but some live in the stubborn land of refusal. They treat editing suggestions like lepers and shun them away as quickly as they can.
Unfortunately editing can take an ugly turn for a writer. Over-editing can feed the pool of self-doubt that so many writers swim in. Will it ever be good enough? Have I made it perfect? Can it ever live up to the great writing out there that at times dwarfs my own and makes me feel like a novice? (Moments like this, I apply the Stephenie Meyer principal. Read a page of Twilight. You will feel so much better about your own writing. :-) At any rate, while it may be hard to motivate yourself to start editing, sometimes it's near impossible to force yourself to stop.
This is why identifying the line, that spot where you've done all you can, is so important. This is where the faith comes in. You have to have faith as a writer that you are good and the words you've graced the page with are important. It's a hard type of faith, particularly in the face of rejection. And let's face it, almost all writers drown in rejection. One of my favorite books, MetaMaus, shows a handful of the rejection letters Spiegelman received before a publisher accepted his beautiful project. I guarantee he came to a point where he let faith override the 'no's' to accept that the graphic novel he'd created was worthy.
Let's face it, we're not all going to be famous writers who end up on the New York Times Bestseller list or in English anthologies that high school students are bludgeoned into reading. And if fame and fortune are your only end goals, it realistically won't play out that way. Instead come to the realization that you are a good writer already, of course with lots of work to do, but a good writer nonetheless. And your writing will be important. To someone. It will be very important. Maybe life changing. Or maybe it will end up being a book that person holds on to for the rest of their lives. That reader will give you all the faith you need.
One of my favorite childhood books was The Teeny Tiny Witches. No, the author Jan Wahl is not super famous, and while he still may be living, I don't believe he writes books anymore. This particular book is no longer in print, although Ebay has a copy or two bouncing around. But I still have my copy. And my daughter Sophia will read it. (My son Matthew is more of a giant, scary cyclops sort of kid.) I've conservatively read this book one hundred times in my thirty-five years, and I haven't even scratched the surface. I'll read it again many more, and with some good preservation my grandchildren will end up owning it. Wahl may have had doubts when he wrote it and gone through a few dozen revisions, but I'm hoping that faith in his story got it published and into my hands.
I'm putting down the editing pen for a few days and sending off my works with a smile on my face. It's not the easiest thing in the world to find, but I've definitely found faith that what I'm writing is good enough.