Novels. They're long, like really frickin' long.
I've written two... they're quietly hiding away in a folder within a folder within a folder on my computer somewhere. Every so often I'll open my recent one, leave it up on screen for a few hours whilst I browse vintage dresses on eBay, and then inevitably run out of time and close it. I've been trying to get back to editing this novel for a while now. It's finished, as in written to the end, but it's a messy first draft. Surprisingly, banging all the words out was relatively easy as I did it for NaNoWriMo (50,000 words in a month), but trying to get myself to go back and read it? Well, I'd rather do the washing and the cleaning... and go shopping for something tasty for dinner, and bake carrot cake, and eat carrot cake... and well, you get the idea. It's called procrastination, and I know a lot of writers do it, but I wanted to get underneath that to see what it is that really makes editing so damn hard.
The thing about a first draft is, it's allowed to be crap, because it's a first draft. I've read a lot of articles which say not to worry about what it ends up like, just get the words out instead. Having the incentive and community focus offered with NaNoWriMo, I indeed managed to do that. I surprised myself to be honest, I didn't think I stood a chance... but then there's editing. That's when you have to take the mess and try to make it good. Uh oh.
Now I know I should "set aside time", "create a writing space", "get into a routine" and all that sort of stuff we're told to do. But if I simply do not want to do it, then nothing is going to make me. Nothing will stop me from shopping on eBay or eating cake, or binge watching Stranger Things.
I'm fortunate that I don't ever seem to get writers block. I always have ideas, so in fact part of the problem is that I always want to write new stuff instead of editing and finishing something else. This is dangerous territory as it results in folders full of documents which maybe should be 'out there' in the hope that real life people will read them one day.
The truth is, I think I'm just scared, and I'm sure many other writers are with me on this.
Editing a novel means revisiting your baby, which is terrifying because that 80.000 words you spent months or sometimes years writing will now be back under your critical eye. What if it's crap? What about all the time I wasted writing it? I long for the time I can read something and not worry about how rubbish it sounds. Sometimes I can look back at my own writing and think it reads like a five years old's.
Then there's getting it out into the world, if you do manage to 'finish' it (will it ever really be finished or do we just need to know when to let go?) Then it's open to the perusal of scary people such as literary agents, and that's even more terrifying. A novel is a piece of you, It's likely you poured your heart and soul into it and now that part of you will be out in the open for people to judge. You hate it and love it at the same time, and now you have to send it over to some fuckers who probably just want to change it anyway. The whole thing will be horrible and we question why we ever wrote the thing in the first place and swear never to write another, but then the ideas come. Then we realise that you can't not do it, and then write another.
Writers are bonkers. I wish I didn't want to be a writer. Or, do I wish I could be a better one? What even is a better one? It's all so subjective. Would I even realise if I was better? I try to tell myself that things I've written are good, I say this so much that I hope one day I finally start to believe it. It's hard to keep going until then, especially through the editing stage, because I'm constantly feeling in denial of the whole thing.
Then there's the lure of short stories. They're short enough to be able to finish and edit without the self-doubt eating away for too long, and if you're lucky enough to have a great writing group like I have (Stokes Croft Writers) then it's even easier. Often I find short stories bring variation when writing something longer. My novel is pretty dark and gritty so writing comedy short stories alongside keeps things a little more lighthearted. There's no doubt that writing dark, emotionally charged things are harder to work on, certainly for me. I feel a strong emotional connection to my characters and have to get really in their mindsets to be able to write. That's not necessarily fun when some of them are going through a very tough time!
I wish I could suggest a way to solve the problem, but I don't want to give all the usual cliche bits of advice. The truth is, I'm still looking for that magic answer too, and its through sharing my thoughts like this that I hope others will relate to it too (answers on a post card?). However, I had some great advice recently: pick a chapter of your novel you think might be okay. One that won't need much editing, or is short, or just one you like, or one that's funny. Whatever it is just see if you can pick one and just do that one.
I tried that and found it wasn't as hard as I thought, and in fact got on a bit of a roll and did several chapters. And in all honesty, they weren't as bad as I thought, which was a great relief. I think this theory of chipping away at different little bit of it may work, I'll just need to keep trying. This may not work for you, but if you try to give different things a go then at some point you'll find a process that works for you.
Don't give yourself a hard time - if you want to work on a short story, a blog or something else instead then just do it. It's all good practice.
The thing that ultimately keeps me going to knowing that if 80,000 words just sits on a computer, that's such a shame. Believing it is worthy of the outside world is hard to do but I'm determined to keep practicing, and I hope you can too. We're all worthy of having our work 'out there.' Let's start by just trying to be kind to ourselves.
Thanks for reading.
How do you write/edit? Do you have any tips for when you lose confidence or faith in your work? I'd love to hear your experiences and advice!