The Groove

Back in the groove. Rewriting a short story, editing a short story for a writer friend, blogging…

By far the least taxing is the editing, but that’s because it’s not something I’m creatively attached to. My friend is at the point where the story is in the shape it needs to be in (summer shape we’ll call it), but it’s dressed for the coldest of February midnights and it needs to shed some bits and pieces. That is to say… it’s a 6,100 word story trying to break into an anthology with a 5,000 word limit. This can be one of the toughest parts of finishing any work of creative writing, because you’ve poured your heart and soul into every single one of those words and suddenly you need to trim. Not because the word isn’t good, or the sentence doesn’t work, or the paragraph doesn’t help the flow of the story, but because the story’s been told it’s too fat. You know it’s not fat, it’s just wearing two sweaters, but it still won’t fit through the tiny little door so it’s got to be done.

It’s always hard when it’s your own work. It’s like being the CEO of the company whose shareholders are forcing you to lay off 18% of the 6,100 employees, but every single one of them is your child. Even the unproductive ones which are drooling in the corner trying to eat their staplers are your children, but decisions need to be made. As I said, very tough when it’s your own.

But for me? No problem. Not my story. I wield my red pen like a psychopath with a scalpel.

That word over there? Gone. Just because. Wrong place at the wrong time. It had to be one of them…

A whole paragraph? Nay! The whole page must go! Muahahahaha!

I feel like I’m twelve years old playing Lemmings again. I have no problem relegating one of the fifty lemmings to blowing himself up because I only need forty. Hell, let’s walk another half-dozen into the lava just to hear them scream, and we’ll still win the level with three to spare!

Usually, setting a story aside for a few weeks or months helps. It severs a bit of the emotional attachment you have to each of the words and makes it easier to slice and dice. It also gives you a bit of time to let the story steep so you know if there’s anything you missed structurally. Deadlines sometimes mean you can’t let it steep as long as you want, and so comes the crucial step of finding people to help you. Having someone edit the story who isn’t emotionally attached to it means you know you’re getting an unbiased opinion on what can stay and what can go (or at least, less biased than the writer is). A good editor can do what a month of steeping can’t.

Speaking of steeping, I just noticed I “steeped” my tea by leaving a cup full of hot water on the counter with no tea bag for the last 10 minutes. There’s no editor for absentmindedness, sadly.

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