Letter to myself: The emotional ups and down of editing

In my last post, I mentioned the technical hardships I faced when trying to edit a novel for the first time. Today, I’ll talk about a much different aspect of editing your very first novel first draft, the emotional hardships, in a letter to myself:

So you’re editing your first draft. You’ve read the glorious parts, those that made it worth being written in the first place. However, you’ve also read all the worst parts, those that will have to be completely rewritten or even reimagined. It was part of the deal from the beginning. But you might have come to feel that those ugly parts make up 75% of the book. As for the remaining 25%, there is still much work to do there.

You’ve spent so much time on your first draft, and it was so hard to get to the end of it, and now it’s like you have to start over. You thought you had 50% – at least – of the job done, but it turns out that wasn’t even 25%.

Now, you don’t want to get discouraged. You want to push through, that’s how things get done. But a novel is long. After having spent a great many hours rereading and critiquing your own work, writing “rewrite this section completely” and “this is terrible” and “this scene has no point”, it’s obvious you’d start feeling down at some point. No matter how intense your passion, too much negative comments directed at you every day is bound to have some impact.

So, now you’re down. You’ve avoided your novel for a few days, to spare your feelings, recharge your battery. It’s tempting to start feeling guilty for those days when you didn’t work on your novel, on making your dream come true. But self-loathing at this point is the worst you could do. Self-loathing is always the worst you could do.

keep calm and edit on a

Relax, don’t feel guilty. You have the right to feel down, it doesn’t mean your resolve is weak. You have the right to a short break to regroup. You can use the break to read or to work on some other story. But then, you have to snap out of it and keep going.

You might want to give up the whole thing. Start a new and “better” story. I can’t tell you not to do that. If you hate the thing, if you can’t even find 25% worth saving because you’ve come to hate the story, you can recycle it and work on something you can love. You don’t have to feel guilty for giving up on a story. It’s not wasted time; it still gave you some experience.

If you love your story, but are disappointed that it didn’t come out as good as you expected, though, you have keep going because that’s what pros do. I love the saying “fake it till you make it: if you want to be a professional writer, do like they do. Follow their process: planning, first draft, rewrite, edit, professional edit, beta reading, edit. Then you can think about finding an agent or publishing.

The good new is: that first draft is so terrible that you can only make it better now. Every change makes it better. Not to mention that seeing how terrible it is (and why) is a power in itself. You know what should be done to make it better, or at least part of it.

Eventually, you’ll have to let it go; accept that your first novel can’t hold a candle to genius first novels like Pride and Prejudice or Harry Potter, that it might not even be worth a 5/10 on your own book review-scale. You’ll have to be content with having finished a novel properly, like a professional writer, and gaining experience doing it. You’ll maybe have to be content with publishing it online and receiving only a lukewarm response to it. You’ll do better on the next book.

But you’ll cross that bridge when you come to it. For now, keep calm and carry on.

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A persona of myself

selfie01aA year ago, I had this crazy idea of creating an online persona. I was going through one of these phases where I hate myself and wish I was somebody else, when I realised that with the internet I could be someone else. Nobody would know it wasn’t true.

I’d create a character for myself, the person I’d love to be. She’d be beautiful, stylish, elegant, classy, smart, sensitive… I could dye my hair, photoshop my face, use a pen name. There were no limits to whom I could pretend to be. I mean, obviously I couldn’t pretend to be famous or anything, but… I wouldn’t want that anyway.

Hannah Jane McMurray 03
Ida would look more or less like Hannah Jane McMurray

The name I chose for her was Ida. It’s made up the 3 central letters of my full name. If I was to make it big or get found out as a “fraud”, I could say cool stuff like “Ida is my core self”.

She would be a writer. Not a famous one, just… a surviving one. Ghostwriter, maybe? That would explain why her name couldn’t be found anywhere. She’d be driven, she’d know how to get things done, unlike me. She wouldn’t bother with countless hobbies like I do, either. She’d be writing, reading… maybe just… playing piano in her free time (I do play a little).

She’d be 30 something and have written several books. She wouldn’t let herself get sidetracked. She’d be quite assertive, too. And a business woman, out of necessity.

Her beauty routine would be psychotically perfect: she’d exercise 6 days a week, eat healthily, keep a steady weight all year long. She’d take excellent care of her skin, paint her nails, go the beauty parlour every week. Her house would be clean, her garden well-groomed.

Belle 03
Art by Arisbeth Cruz Hernandez

Oh, but she’d have to have a few faults, or else she’d look superhuman. So… I guess… uh… well, she’d be a perfectionist like me. And then… wait, I gave her too many qualities, she looks like a freaking Disney princess. She wouldn’t be assertive; she’d be a shyish introvert like myself. And she wouldn’t be so pretty. It’d be a bother to heavily photoshop all of my pictures anyway. There is no need for a writer to be model-pretty.

That’s when I realised the beauty to die for was the only unachievable characteristic – that is without surgery and time-consuming daily routines. Nothing was keeping me from becoming that person. I could take better care of myself. I could give up those hobbies that didn’t make me feel like I was doing anything of value.

Ida became me. I was fine with it; I was good enough. I already was who I wanted to be, all that was missing was a clear path to follow.

DIGITAL CAMERAThen, gradually, I became more like the original Ida. I became more driven; I wrote two first drafts; I gave up all of the hobbies I could; I even go to the beauty parlour every few weeks now. I still gain weight in the winter to lose in the spring; my house is still messy most of the time; my lawn is half grass, half dandelions. It’s fine. People gotta have faults, hey?

Becoming a surviving writer might never possible. It doesn’t matter, being a struggling writer is good enough.

Who would have thought I’d have to create a fake identity to find my true identity?

Just be yourself. Let people see the real, imperfect, flawed, quirky, weird, beautiful, magical person that your are.
– Mandy Hale