When I did A level French Lit, one of the set books was La Peste by Camus. There’s a character in it who wants to write a book but can’t get past the first sentence. He keeps editing it, re-reading it and editing it again.
Whilst not quite as troubled as Camus’ character I do find I have something of that problem. I can’t let a piece of my writing make its appearance on the world stage unless it is perfect, fully formed and a non pareil of its genre. This requires editing…lots of editing.
This habit probably accounts for both the length of time it takes me to write something (blog posts included some days) and the irrepressible urge to write and rewrite and write rewrites of rewrites.
All advice for novice writers is to get it all out of the head and onto the page before starting the edit. I’m sure it’s absolutely the right thing to do but how hard is that?
I faff and fiddle as I write. A couple of paragraphs written…oops, no that doesn’t sound right…have to change that to…and so on. Thus it is that 250 words may take me a couple of hours to pen and it still won’t be quite as I want it.
I try to write every morning – day job permitting –and usually start the session by reading over what I wrote the previous day. If I confined myself to just reading it and picking up the thread it’d be fine. But I don’t. I can’t help myself – it’s addictive – I start editing, pruning, tacking and titivating so nothing new gets written until late morning – if I’m lucky. Often it is at this point that I decide that what I’ve written and edited is trash anyway and bin it.
Let me give you an example – this is the opening sentence or two of a novel I’m working on:
“At the Manoir de la Trinite, perched above the village of Brussac, all was still in the midsummer heat. Yet the gravel carriageway leading to the front courtyard showed signs of hasty passage with scattered pebbles and crushed stems of the lavender that bordered it giving off their last scent.”
Now in the moments after cutting and pasting this little para I’ve already edited it twice and even as I read it again I’m itching to make another change. See what I mean?
This leads me to my next problem – when to stop editing. There has to be a law of diminishing returns surely – something that tells me that even if I delete a comma and change the word order in sentence 715, nothing will add to the quality of the work in a meaningful way.
The only remedy I can think of (and I’d be happy for legal, decent and honest suggestions here – well don’t worry too much about decent) is to go back to writing longhand, away from the PC or laptop, away from the all-too-easy mark, delete or cut & paste.
But can someone please tell me when is enough good enough?
Signing off ‘til Monday so have a good weekend.