I’m going to concentrate on self-criticism because in my experience the most tricky part of editing is managing your mind. In this context it’s good to remember that we have two sides of the brain. Right hand side: emotional, imaginative, creative and intuitive. The left hand side: logical, analyzing, language processor, critic. If the right hand side has been largely in charge during the creative side of writing, during the editing process, the left hand side comes to the fore.
And you want it to.
You want it to see structural problems, examine patterns, assess the believability of characters, and you want it to pick up on spelling and grammar mistakes etc.
So you want to utilize it but you do not want it to destroy you.
If the left hand side of the brain is a tiger, we want it to be The Tiger Who Came to Tea, (at the beginning of the story) an urbane polite beast that will point out difficulties and illogicalities in what we’ve written and present solutions. We do not want it to be Sheer Khan in the Jungle Book. We do not want it to look like this one below, as if it is going to pounce on us and eat us alive. We want the the tiger on our side; we do not want to be its tasty snack. Excuse me, I hear you cry, How the hell do you tame a tiger?
The only answer to that is with practice.
A sign that the left hand side of the brain is snacking on us is if you have some of the following thoughts going through your head when you consider your book:
- it’s rubbish
- I’ve no idea where to begin
- what was I thinking of
- I’m ashamed of it
- I’m stupid
- no one will be interested in this stupid story
- I’ve wasted so much time on this rubbish
- am I completely nuts
- it will never be published
- I will die in poverty
These kinds of thoughts which can have a certain taunting playground quality are I would guess very common to all writers at some time or other. Writing them down helps because it brings perspective and stops them rolling around unaddressed in your brain. So write them down, tear them up and crack on.
However, there are likely to be times when the tiger gets you and you stop and simply don’t know how to proceed. It might be helpful at this point to remind yourself that writing a novel is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Most writers have been at this point. There’s a reason why people give up. It’s now a question of whether you are going to be one of them.
If the tiger has its jaws at your throat there are a few things you can do:
- go for a walk. I know, I know but there’s all kinds of evidence out there that suggests this is a very good idea. For example a 2014 Stamford study suggested that walking increased a person’s creative output by an average of 60%. Twenty minutes of walking increases cerebral blood flow. etc, etc. Look at it this way, it’s free and it’s unlikely to do you any harm so why not give it a go.
- talk to someone you trust. This is a bit like writing down the criticisms. Getting things out in the air helps reduce their power over you.
- get someone you trust to read it. A proviso to this is that you are clear what you want and clear about time frame. For example I might say: ‘Would you mind reading through it for me. I’m not quite sure if it’s holding together and I know it’s not quite there yet. Could you tell me if my plot seems OK and if there any points where you get bored or feel it’s losing it’s way. Also if there are any things in it which are irritating/cliched/ unbelievable/repetitive… Be clear on the time frame because if you’re hoping someone will read it in a fortnight and they end up reading it in a month you might be pissed off.
Finally, a few random thoughts. At some point or other you will be confronted with the question of why you’re doing it. Why write? Why put yourself through it? Only you can answer that for yourself. It seems to me that one of the reasons is that we are story telling beings – homo fabula and stories are one way we make sense of the world.
I love this quote from Ben Okri:
“Nations and people are largely the stories they feed themselves. If they tell themselves lies they will suffer the future consequences of those lies. If they tell themselves stories that face their own truths they will free their histories for future flowerings.”
Good luck with the tiger. Mine is currently looking a bit like this because it views this post as relatively acceptable. Not tamed just resting. Now I’m going to take my own advice and go for a walk.