The Importance of Obsessive Compulsive Editing

Just like many other self-published authors I have taken on a level of additional responsibility that traditionally published authors perhaps don’t have to worry about. I am of course talking about the tedious process of proofreading and editing, a process that in my personal experience takes a similar amount of time to actually writing the bloody thing. I didn’t enjoy this process at all… but then again I kind of did. Many tens of hours disappeared and on the surface I saw no return for my efforts. Reading the same sentences over and over and over in a sense dissolved the plot and the characters into nothing and all that I was left with were pre-existing words carrying their own pre-existing meanings and context arranged in a specific way. Had I actually created something or had I just taken a giant Rubik’s Cube, twisted it at random a few times and fobbed the resulting mishmash off as my own work? Every time I thought I was close to finishing I’d give the manuscript one last read through and discover half a dozen glaringly obvious spelling mistakes that I hadn’t noticed before. The obsessive compulsive in me needed to weed out every last one, but I know that I must have missed at least a couple even now…

The proofreading/editing process was a strange one. Writing ‘Regarding Mikhail’ and ‘Lioness’ was all about throwing conventions out of the door and trying to approach dramatic-storytelling-in-a-futuristic-world from angles that I wasn’t familiar with; it may sound pretentious but like many creative endeavours it was an ephemeral process deeply entwined with my own psychology. To go from such a subjective and self-indulgent task to something so focused and (almost) objective was jarring, but I loved it, and I hated that I loved it. Like I said before it was tedious and it was boring and I didn’t know when it would end and I wasn’t visibly accumulating any progress. I grew to despise my own prose because I had read it so many times, but I was finally connecting with the real fundamentals of what writing was all about. As far as the plot and the characters go I was happy with the meat of both novels, but under the microscope there was a lot to be worked on and I was fascinated by how simplistically everything could be broken down. I became obsessed with my metaphors and my descriptions and my sentence structure, often agonising over the same three or four lines for hours at a time only to do nothing more than insert a comma and swap a couple of words around.

This was new for me as ‘Regarding Mikhail’ and ‘Lioness’ (which were both edited one after the other in quick succession) were and still are the only two bodies of work (so far) that I have seen all the way through from inception to publication. Due to the numerous unfinished projects I’ve started over the years I’ve had no shortage of experience indulging in plotting and characterisation, but nothing ever reached any kind of editing stage. I didn’t know how to edit. Maybe I still don’t, maybe there are tricks and strategies that can alleviate the tedium, or maybe it is literally just a case of reading and rereading and rerereading.

Anyway I digress… the writing process itself I have to say came very easily to me. Writer’s block is a common problem for many folk, but I trundled through two novels with no issue; I planned, I started, I maybe deviated off course once or twice but said deviations only added to the story, and then I finished. I had no problems at all and I’m thankful for that. The writing process was a time sink and nothing else, but the editing process… christ I lost sleep over the editing process. I’m normally so pleased with my creations but I became my own worst critic, scouring dictionaries and thesauruses for words that would perfectly illustrate what I wanted to convey whilst at the same time retaining some semblance of coherence and understandability. I think I subconsciously wanted to inject a sense of poetry into even the most mundane of sentences, but that poetry had to be simplistic and not even slightly pretentious or self-indulgent. It had to flow, it had to feel natural, and even if I didn’t quite succeed in writing in such a style I at least know for certain that I didn’t swing into that cringeworthy realm of precociousness.

As a direct result of this experience I am currently tossing around the idea of reentering higher education and pursuing an MA in Linguistics, because engaging with language in such close proximity for such an extended period has made me realise just how fascinating and versatile it really is. In a sense my stories are just a giant Rubik’s Cube that I’ve twizzled around a few times and am now taking full credit for. Now, if I can say anything in this post other than ‘HERE’S A VAGUE STORY ABOUT EDITING THAT HAPPENED TO ME ONCE’, it’s that there’s an entirely new and different layer of writing on the far side of your potential magnum opus that you might not realise exists until you get to it. So yeah, here’s your warning folks, and remember you heard it here first. That sense of accomplishment you get when you type out ‘The End’ and turn into a boneless puddle of weeping joy is like nothing else, but if like many modern authors you plan on self-publishing your work you’re going to need to edit the crap out of every last sentence. I actually did a lot of editing as I wrote by taking it slowly and reviewing the previous day’s work every day, but it’s not enough. It’s never enough. You’re not only competing against other authors, you’re competing against the combined efforts of other authors and their respective publishing houses, and you need to be every person involved. A handful of obvious mistakes early on can turn people off even the most engaging of stories. It won’t take long for mediocre reviews to start filtering in, and before you know it you could have a flop on your hands.

Maybe I’m being a little pessimistic there, after all I’m no expert on how these things work and could well be wrong, but I really don’t think that I am. Edit people! Your general discourse and writing style can be just as magnetic as the actual content of your prose. It’s a horrible and crappy job with no immediate award, but when you reread the end result that final time and remember how bad the first draft was you’ll be glad you bothered.

Once that’s all done and you’ve forked out for cover art and formatted everything and published to your desired format/s, then begins the process of trying to reach some kind of sizeable audience. I haven’t quite cracked that one yet so I’ll have to get back to you…

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Obsessive Compulsive Editing

  1. Isabel C. Delcourt-Couto

    I didn’t know how much tideous editing can be. When I read your books all the words, characters & situations seemed to move on in a steady flow. Every time I read I get into it so much, that is like I’m actually inside the story, that is how much I enjoy your work. So for what is worth, all of that editing has paid off. All you have published has keeped me interested and at
    the edge of my sit. Your ideas come across clearly and your style compare to other writers out there(not that I care to compare you with anyone) is creative,sensitive,original & it leaves me wanting for more. You keep it interesting and I have no trouble undestanding what I’m reading. And believe me I’m very picky & question everything. If you connect to all your readers the way you have connected with me, I think you are going to be writing for a very long time. So Keep it coming you have hungry readers!!!


  2. Isabel C. Delcourt-Couto

    I’m glad you are starting to get the recognition you deserve. Hope you will be able to take advantage of this if it is good for you. Good luck isa

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