Any lingering doubt I had that the editing process is just a minor and inconvenient obstacle between me and finishing my novel was removed this week.
I emailed my friend, fellow writer Caitlin Crowley, about a dream I had which featured her. I dreamed that a bunch of us were traveling through Egypt. It was 4am (in the dream) and I needed to pee so I walked outside (apparently we were traveling el cheapo: my room didn’t have its own bathroom) and she was standing there motioning for me to follow her to a tiny church next door, built into a cliff face. I really needed to pee but she said not to worry about that (which was all right for her; she didn’t need to pee.) The tiny church turned out to be an ornately decorated Greek Orthodox chapel abounding with striking colors and patterns. The lights were on and there were people praying. Then, to my left, I saw another church. It was Indian – Hindu, I think. It, too, was vibrantly decorated, and people were praying and dancing and leaving offerings. I realized that next to it was another chapel for a different religion. And beyond it, another and another, and that built into this rock was a church for every different type of religion. I was so amazed that I forgot I needed to pee! Then I woke up and guess what? I really did need to pee!
Turns out that Caitlin’s sister, Shauna, is trained in interpreting dreams (and astrology and tarot) so Caitlin sent my email to her. Shauna really knows her stuff and the interpretation that came back was a revelation. It seems that the most likely interpretation is that my dream was borne of dealing with the longer-and-harder-than-expected editing phase of my novel.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I got my novel back from my editor–Meghan Pinson–at the start of October and working through the manuscript, sentence by sentence, has been challenging. And I’m not using “challenging” as an annoyingly optimistic euphemism for “one unholy goddamned pain in the butt obstacle course from hell’s basement.” I’ve enjoyed this editing process, and learned a lot from it, but it’s raised as many questions as it’s answered.
With so much cut out, does the prose now seem choppy?
Or is that only because I know what’s been taken out?
How best do I decide if I like Meghan’s suggested edits?
Did she take out or change this word/sentence/paragraph/description/chapter because it was too wordy?
There are so many ways to write this sentence – am I writing it the best way?
After working on this for 4 years, can I even still be objective enough to make that call?
Working my way through Meghan’s edits has brought home to me that there are dozens of different ways to construct a sentence, or to approach a scene, or set a chapter, or express the narrator’s voice, or describe a character. The art of writing, I’m starting to understand, is the art of being able to see the options available and choosing which one is the best fit. Each of the churches Caitlin guided me through represented each way of writing my novel. They were each alive with color and glowed with reverence which suggests to me that there isn’t really a “wrong way”, per se, but each represented “a way” and it was up to me to find the best fit for the vision I have in my mind for my novel.
Oh, and that whole urgent need to pee thing represented my frustration with not knowing which of those choices (churches) fitted me best. It’s by making my way through each chapel and experiencing what it has to offer that I can resolve my frustrations over not knowing how best to tell my tale. Well, that and the fact that I really did need to pee…