SO YOU’RE EDITING aka TAMING THE TIGER.

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?

angry animal big carnivore

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.

Related image

V &A’s Tipu’s Tiger

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.

tiger lying on ground

Photo by Tuesday Temptation on Pexels.com

 

So now you’ve got a first draft …

A very common piece of advice for writers is to put their first draft in a drawer and wait. I’ve seen a month suggested as a good length of time. The thinking is that after that time has passed you will see it with fresh eyes and the editing will be easier.

Ha, ha, ha …

Now this is all very well but what the hell are you supposed to do in this month? In my case probably a week…

Here are a few ideas for you if you are facing this challenging period of time:

paperclips

Pointless pointy things and paperclips

  • buy paperclips [What? Well, it’s something to do, isn’t it?]
  • buy coloured clips [ditto]
  • buy coloured pointy things [double ditto]
  • colour coordinate your books [no, don’t actually, people will think you are disturbed]
  • dead head and water your … oh, good lord they’re actually dead so instead …
  • throw out your dead geraniums
  • phone your friends – oh, you haven’t got any
  • think about cleaning the kitchen floor [but under no circumstances actually do it]
  • pick up a passing poetry book and try and convince yourself that you are more poetic than you are currently feeling [being acutely aware that you want to inject a sense of poetry into certain parts of your book]
  • if all this fails to do the trick place a cat in a deck chair on the printed out draft along with spider man [you will require super powers to edit it] a glass eye [it happened to come to hand] a red heart and the oldest book you own, a 1799 history of the tower of London volume 1 price sixpence [No, I have absolutely no idea where it came from but here it is].
spiderman

Bonkers alchemy

  • take all your loose change [if your knees can take the strain] to one of those machines where it swallows it all up and gives you a voucher to spend. Feel the weirdness of not having one 1 pence piece in the flat apart from the one the machine rejected. Enjoy the weightlessness that goes with having no coppers anywhere near you.
  • consider the fact that with all your other 8 books you had that phase when you hated them and thought they were rubbish, hated yourself, thought you were… This is just another of those times so aren’t we maturing and isn’t this fun?
  • consider therapy
  • play this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARt9HV9T0w8
  • no, no, no if you’re thinking of rollerskating
  • drink
  • do not under any circumstances start following the news because the toxicity of the national debate [UK/Brexit/October/2019. One month to go etc] will bleed into the toxicity of your relationship with your book and you will want to set fire to your hat [if you have one] or your head if you haven’t
  • don’t read quotes like this because Calvin was obviously feeling exactly like you are now

“The shelf life of the modern hardback writer is somewhere between the milk and the yoghurt.”

CALVIN TRILLIN – THE NEW YORK TIMES 14 JUNE 1987

  • iron everything you can find including the cat and the hamster
  • try to ignore the 147 random pains that may have sprung into your body at the moment you typed the words THE END
  • under no circumstances dwell on that weird dream you had about Boris Johnson wrecking your car and denying it, the one where you woke yourself up shouting in a rage OR-DAHHHHH, OR-DAHHHHHH…
  • do not practice mindfulness because you will sink into the existential nothingness that is your life without writing and it won’t be pretty
  • don’t open that drawer which contains packets of old strepsils, a torch, batteries which may or may not be flat, an ancient camera, a belt that you once put round your waist but which now fits the top of your thigh, many odd gloves and your great aunt’s handkerchief holder, currently containing no handkerchiefs, three old conkers and miscellaneous christmas cracker gifts including a tiny green frog which is supposed to hop but … Wheeeeeeeeeee…oh my god that’s brilliant I’m never throwing that out. DO NOT OPEN THE DRAWER because it will make you feel like falling asleep for 100 years.
  • on the other hand that’s the best idea you’ve had so far. If you can, sleep for a week, it’ll save your liver and  it’ll prevent you buying paperclips and then you can get up and start editing. Good luck and don’t forget to use the pointy things but don’t worry if you don’t there’s always that drawer to put them in where they can point pointlessly at the pointless things in there which you have just discovered include two f*****g bags of coppers [coins not policemen] and that tiny green frog.

THE END (although unfortunately as any fule kno, it probably isn’t).