It’s more than one week in and I can say that I’ve completed two of my goals, started another, and am carrying out a fourth (in the form of this blog post). Not bad. Admittedly, the goals I’ve completed are the small ones, but still, sometimes I find that list of lots of small things much harder to complete than the one big (and probably more interesting and relevant) thing. So far, then, it seems to have been successful. This was never going to be a heavy writing drafts month as I spent the previous 6 weeks writing almost 40,000 words for a chapter-type-thing for my thesis. As this didn’t fall within the time scope of AcWriMo and it also meant that I didn’t have any new things to write, I was slightly sceptical about joining in. I thought that, as I didn’t have any ideas to get down, I didn’t have much to do with AcWriMo. And maybe I don’t in so far as I haven’t set a 50,000 word goal and I definitely wouldn’t reach it. But actually, over this week I’ve come to realise that writing isn’t just about adding new words and new ideas to a page. Instead, writing is a whole series of points in the process culminating in words on a page. For me, this process is filled with mini-stages of writing: reading, writing notes, thinking, writing plans, writing drafts, and writing edits. It can be tempting to only think of writing as the moment of writing drafts, especially as this is the most exciting step, the most rewarding step, and the step where you can SEE that you’re achieving things and making progress. Last month when I was writing my chapter I was so clearly focussed on this one aspect of writing, I sort of forgot about the other steps. Especially about the editing step.
Editing is my demon. I find it frustrating, interminable, immensely difficult, and disheartening. I cringe reading my work afterwards. I don’t like the diminishing word count and crossing out whole paragraphs – it feels like the work I’ve already done is crap, not worthwhile, and deleting it feels like it was a waste of time to begin with. I struggle to find better words, phrases, syntax which frustrated me immensely. And, most of all, editing a long piece of work gets my head in a right tizz. In fact, editing has become such a difficult step for me that it’s become a mental block. I feel emotionally and even physically prevented from picking up my work again to ‘destroy’ it. I think this block comes from two places: (1) lack of appreciation of the editing process not as a demon but as a helpful, necessary, useful step in the writing process, and (2) a mental block coming from fear, imposter syndrome, worry that re-reading I’ll see that it IS total crap and not redeemable, and, most of all, editing and finishing something means I can’t hide behind the fact that it’s a ‘work in progress’ but at the same time, the editing process could go on forever in a constant state of tinkering for an unattainable perfection – isn’t it better just not to try?
Leaving my ‘mental block’ to one side for the time being, I want to turn to the first point. My lack of realisation about the usefulness of editing as a necessary step/aspect in the writing process reminds me of my battle with scales in music. I used to hate scales. I did not see the point in learning all the different major, harmonic and melodic minor, and diminished 7th, scales in 3rd, 4ths, arpeggios, etc., by heart. It seemed like a waste of time. What I wanted to get on with doing was playing the interesting pieces. I was told they were important but I shrugged it off. But then I started practicing them – out of necessity first, but then as a good warm up. And they clicked. I learnt the sounds, and my fingers went on to auto-pilot. I could feel the scales. This didn’t just mean that I could get full marks on the scales section of my latest exam. It meant that all of my playing was improved, from improvising, to fluidity in pieces. Knowing the scales in my ear, my head, and my fingers made playing easier and above-all better. I can associate this now, with editing writing. It’s a hard and gruelling process – much like trying to get C sharp minor right and making the same mistake again and again. It’s not just painful to listen to (or read) your writing and see the same mistakes, it’s frustrating not being able to find the right note, phrase, or word. But practising and learning the scales and practising editing means that you can not only hand in a piece that is much stronger, much better, and stands a better chance at getting ‘good marks’; moreover, it will improve the entire process of writing. Rather than struggling between notes/phrases/terms they become ingrained making the whole experience of writing more fluid. Obviously, this metaphor is problematical: you can master scales (more or less), you can’t ever completely master editing. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and that, more importantly, you can’t get anything out of it.
If there’s one thing I want to take away from AcrWriMo so far, it’s this importance of editing. Producing words and getting them on the page is great, thrilling, exciting, and satisfying. But this is only one step; after this scrubbing the words down, even if you go from 1,000 words to 200, is even more important. Writing isn’t just about getting more words on the page, it’s also about crafting them.