If I’ve learned one thing through the process of editing Wide Horizon, it’s that the only thing harder than deciding what to say is figuring out how to say it again.
I’ve lamented more than once through this process that, after spending several years on a piece of writing, one grows comfortable with it, regardless of its quality. Thus, looking back over sections of Wide Horizon, some of which I wrote several years ago, it can be difficult to make changes. I’ve grown comfortable with what I wrote, and as such, even when looking over sections I remember being dissatisfied with upon first writing them, I struggle to change anything. Some of those paragraphs no longer seem to bad. With others, while I can see that, clearly, this failed to live up to what I was trying to do, I find myself unable to find a better way of saying it.
This is not, of course, the first time I’ve been through this. Over a year ago now, during my initial revisions of my first draft, I did some serious cutting. When all was said and done, I’d removed roughly 6,000 words of text. Most of it was excess; fluff I’d put in at a point when, ironically, I’d feared the story would be too short. And yet it was hard to do. I’d grown comfortable with my story as I’d told it. Changing it, taking out things I’d been proud of, was more difficult than I could have anticipated.
It’s never easy to look upon one’s own work critically, yet at the end of the day the writer is the only one who can make big changes. An editor can point him in the right direction, but it’s up to him to make the hard call with the backspace key.
The task now has proven far more challenging. Now, I’m faced with fundamentally rewriting several key sections of the story. Though much of what I have to rework covers important sections I’d never been fully satisfied with, it’s still hard to cut out so much text. Part of me (the rational part) says “You can do this. You already wrote an entire novel. You had a clear vision for this. All you have to do is get it down on paper.” But it’s not that easy. These pages and chapters may not have turned out perfectly, but I put a lot of time and energy into them. I sat for hours writing this, and at the end stepped away feeling as though I’d done the best I could. Now, I’m faced with the task of first admitting that I did not, in fact, do the best I could, and then erasing something I worked hard to create. To an extent, it feels almost self-defeating: I’m doing something I’d already done.
Hard as it has been, though, I feel as though I’m finally up to the task. I’ve made great progress on several of these key sections, and for the rest I have a clear idea of how I intend to rewrite everything. It’s more engaging. There’s more, and better, dialogue. I’m adding a richness to the characters that was sorely lacking before, and in the end, I know I’ll be left with a better finished product, one that more precisely captures the vision I’d had for this story when I first hatched upon the premise, over ten years ago.
Recently, I made the difficult decision to temporarily abandon my other projects. My short fiction, my current work-in-progress, even my daily sketches; all other writing pursuits, have been set aside. For the first time since I finished the first draft, I am focusing the sum of my efforts on Wide Horizon, and it shows. For the first time in years, I find my thoughts consumed by the story. I plan out dialogue while driving to work. I jot down notes in the middle of the night. I find myself looking forward to the next paragraph, the next chapter. And through it all I’ve also rediscovered the emotion: the mix of feelings I’d felt the day I finished the first draft. Elation at knowing I’ve completed something, pride in seeing how it turned out, regret from knowing it will all soon be over. But more than anything, I feel that I’m truly doing this story justice.
Recently, I read a quote that stated, if I may paraphrase, that it’s easy for a first draft to be perfect, as all a first draft need do is exist. Well, I have a first draft. Now comes the hard part.
It’s a strange feeling: part of me can’t wait to look back on my finished work, yet a part of me regrets that it will all soon be over.