Editing and Stockholm syndrome

Editing. The word strikes fear in some and joy in others (masochists, for want of a better term).

My own experience of it can only be explained by Stockholm syndrome. I love that moment of finishing the first draft, I really do. That beautiful moment when you place that last full stop and think back over the wonderful thing you have just created. Remember that scene where the Minotaur finally overcame his shyness? When the main character talked himself into believing that writing was a choice of the sane? Such wonderful, wonderful moments.

Then you let it rest. It’s then that the rot rises to the surface. Your beautiful prose and well-written characters come back to haunt you, not as you remember them, but as twisted versions of their former selves. It’s like an ever more terrifying version of A Christmas Carol, but this one happens all year round. The ghosts of your story come to find you in your most defenseless moments; attempting to fall asleep, sitting on the toilet, or writing something else. You freeze for a moment, then furiously think of how you could change that line, or perhaps cut a scene entirely. You shake your head at the scene where the pirates join forces to fight the cow invasion. Eventually you believe the entire thing is lost and you may as well free up that extra space on your hard drive.

I always feel like a butcher on the first edit. Yes, some stuff does go in, but mostly things get cut out and consigned to my writing dustbin. Sometimes I look in there to laugh, other times to cry. It makes me want to never write again, as what is the point? It’s rubbish, isn’t it?

But then something odd happens. I finish that first edit and look back. I see some elements gleaming, others tarnished. I let it rest again. I go back, and edit it again. Repeat ad nauseum. Eventually I love the editing. Everything is gleaming and shiny and as wonderful as it can be. I look back on scenes with genuine glee, occasionally picking out things I had forgotten I had written – the occasional line or piece of dialogue pops out as better than I remember it. Everything is good with the world once more.

Then you finish the next first draft, and the sickness sets in again.

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