Confession

Happy Friday, everybody. Or, Saturday. I probably won’t post this until tomorrow.

I took the plunge and did something I’ve been putting off since I hit my 50,000 word NaNoWriMo goal on November 29th. I reopened my story for editing. This might not sound like a big deal–I got the words on paper, I did the hard part, right? It’s just time to go back and clean it up a bit, yeah?

Well, I have a confession to make. It’s probably going to make me sound like a bad writer. The truth is, maybe I am.

I’ve never seriously edited a story before.

I’ve sent out 1.3 million words’ worth of stories into the internet to hopefully entertain and delight fantasy fans, and I’ve never seriously edited them. Most of those stories were fan fiction. I had strong characters as my starting points and I put them in a situation and just let the characters dictate what their natural responses would be to the situation. The stories just kind of evolved, and I’d post a chapter at a time, as they came to me–there were a couple of stories that were 8 years, start to finish, as I pretty much took a break from fan fiction throughout all of college and a couple of years after and only returned to it intermittently until recently. There are pros and cons to this I suppose. Pro? I had to stick with what I’d written because it was already out there and I couldn’t change my mind about a plot point after the fact. Con? I couldn’t change my mind about a plot point because it was already out there.

Maybe it’s just a decade of habit now, but when I think about my stories, I rarely ever give much consideration to major changes. Pretty much everything I’ve posted on FanFiction.net could use going over with a fine tooth comb–there are typos that need to be fixed that embarrass me. But I’ve never really thought about dismantling the stories and changing any major facet about them. The characters told me what felt right for them and the story worked. If I didn’t know what the characters needed or I wasn’t sure where it was supposed to go…then my reviewers waited a long time between chapters.

Participating in NaNoWriMo this year and really pushing myself for the first time in writing an original story (as original as a fairytale gets), I discovered some of the problems with my method of writing. If you have characters you know like the back of your hand, characters you feel like you know as well as anyone in the real world, it’s possible to feel pretty certain that you’ve chosen a natural response for them in a situation. But what about when you don’t really know who your characters are yet? When their backstories are still largely unformed?

For example, part way through my NaNoWriMo story The Making of a Beast, I decided that the main character’s friend and confidante wasn’t a friend who he’d grown up with–it was his father’s friend, who had watched him grow up. I’m fairly certain he’s going to abandon the main character at some point, but I’m still not sure who he is and what the reason for it might be. So I just skipped over that bit.

That’s right–I skipped over chunks of the story during NaNoWriMo, which is something I couldn’t do when I was writing fan fiction. Again, you’ve got the pros and cons there–by being able to skip over it in this case I was able to keep writing, and moving on, and I know I can go back and fix it when I’ve made decisions. It’s been over a month and I haven’t wanted to think about it–I haven’t made those decisions, and I don’t have any better idea about who my characters are. When I write my fics, if I can’t decide on something or I’m not sure about it, it delays the whole process, because I can’t go back. B has to follow A and C has to follow B or the whole alphabet will hate me–though occasionally there’s a good excuse for a flashback and things can be jumbled up a bit.

Here I am now, more than halfway through January, and the only headway I’ve made is to promise myself that I will go back to this story, and that I will do NaNoWriMo again. I have 50,000+ words of unedited something with all these decisions still waiting to be made and these gaping holes in the story as I jump from one part of it to another. Thinking about it, I think I was trying to rush things. I predict all said and done this is going to be a roughly 200,000 word story. I’ve written stories over 150K before (and my current fan fic is nearly at that mark), but it’s never something like this.

I used to always find I had the best chance of editing something if I printed it out and took a pen to it–it’s easy to gloss over things on the computer. I opened my story tonight for the first time since November and started nipping and tucking at the prologue, changing a word here or there. Then I decided to print it. Surely I can do it all if I just take it a piece at a time. And then I found myself wondering what I was doing, trying to edit it piecemeal. Shouldn’t I read the whole thing again and then go to work on the pieces?

Honestly? I haven’t the foggiest. I’m leaning towards that, so that I have a better idea of what I’ve already written. I told myself from the beginning that sections of what I’ve written were probably going to have to go, but I find myself reluctant to part with any of it–something I remember feeling in the creative writing classes and projects I did a lifetime ago.

How do you feel about the editing process? Does it make you cringe? Or is there satisfaction in purging your story, making it better, getting the perfect fit for it? The perfect fit really does make a difference in most things in life. I could probably wax philosophical on that for a bit, but I think it’s time to call it a night. If I manage to hit “publish post” in the next 30 seconds, it’ll still be Friday.

Too late. Saturday is here. Oh well. It’s still Friday somewhere, isn’t it? Time to curl up and sleep.

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And before I forget, here are a few things you can expect to hear from me about in the next couple of weeks:

Stay tuned!

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10 thoughts on “Confession

    • I’m glad to know I’m not alone in this boat. I know some people who do write their whole fanfic before posting the pieces, but I’ve certainly never done it that way. You’re right about the instant gratification–as soon as I’ve completed a chapter, it goes up. It’s hard enough to make myself read through it once to check for typos before putting it up. I suppose patience is one of those things I have to work on. Do you (or did you) write much fan fiction?

      • I’m just shy of 1.5 million words archived on FanFiction.net, on 58 stories I think. My biggest fandom for writing is Harry Potter, though I’ve also got some Artemis Fowl, Young Wizards, Lord of the Rings, Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and Peter Pan thrown in. A lot of it (particularly the early stuff) is terribly cliche. I’m astounded at how many reviews/follows/favorites they got. By contrast of course, some of the things I’m a lot more proud of have hardly any reviews. What are your fandoms?

      • Wow, that is an incredible body of work. I thought I’d done a lot! My early stuff is all gone and I didn’t upload anything for a couple of years, so my stuff I’d all Torchwood with some crossovers like CSI, Sherlock and Doctor Who

      • I have to admit, I haven’t really checked out Torchwood or Sherlock, but I love Doctor Who and have been told I need to. My early stuff was a couple of heavily Mary-Sued novel length stories, and some short humor pieces. It’s all still there, just waiting. My old pen name is ridiculous now, but I keep it intact because there are still a bunch of people following the stuff that’s in progress.

      • Mostly I’ve written in the Harry Potter fandom, but also a little: Artemis Fowl, Young Wizards, and Diana Wynne Jones. I still can’t quite seem to break the fan fiction habit, no matter how many times I tell myself I want to start focusing on original work.

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