For a person who is on Revision 10 of her current novel, the idea of editing has become an important theme in the current leg of my writing journey.
One of the first things I learned as a writer was to keep a notebook and pen with me at all times and to always write the ideas down when you’re caught in the throes of creativity. That lesson was learned the hard way. For some reason, the energy and vision of the initial idea must be captured fresh or you lose it. At least, that’s what happens to me.
Have you ever written something wonderful and then lose it due to some technical glitch that eats up your files or ‘disappears’ them to an unknown alternate universe? Then, when you sit down and try to recreate it, it isn’t the same no matter how much work you put into it? Or, if the file mercifully shows up again and you compare it with the original, the first one is vastly superior? There is an energy and life to it that isn’t there on second creation? I’ve had that happen more times than I care to repeat. That’s why I always keep an inspiration-pad with me wherever I go, though it’s in the form of my iPad now.
This does not bode well for editing and revisions and I’m always worried that the original vision will be lost if I change anything. I’ve read several revisions by various people recently and one of them particularly stuck out for me. The original was magical, fun and held a sense of wonder and discovery. The revision was dry, lifeless, but technically correct. The magic was gone and it read more like a shopping list of actions rather than a story. That’s more than taking one step forward and two steps back. It was taking one step forward and dropping off a cliff.
With this trepidation, I approached my own revisions. First, I agree with what another writer said recently, writing and editing at the same time disrupts the flow of my creative energies, but as a writer, I have to keep an eye on the bigger picture as I weave the fabric of the story. If something doesn’t work, if I see that I’m heading for a block of major proportions, it’s time to take a step back and take an objective look at what I’m doing.
But how to do it without losing the life of the story? There’s the rub.
Why does the original creation have such energy? The answer is the difference between writing a good story and a great one that draws the reader into your world and never lets them go, that makes them want to write reams of fanfiction because they never want to leave.
I watched the Les Miserables concert on PBS during one of their station drives and I was amazed at Victor Hugo’s genius as a storyteller. While I loved the entire story, and my favorite character was Javert, I took a careful look at all the story threads as they unraveled on the screen. From Jean Valjean, to Eponine, the young lovers and the student rebels, each had a storyline that had a great emotional resonance: bravery, love, loyalty, pathos and tragedy. Themes that reach the heart of the audience without being overdone.
That was the magic of the original creation for me. I am caught up in the flow, in the head and heart of the characters and the core of the story. Not that I’m not like that when writing generally, but not to the same degree, more like through a filter. It is a secret elixir of storytelling that I’m constantly seeking when doing revisions and editing, to bury myself in the world and lives of my characters so that I can transfer that onto the page and give the readers the same magic I’m experiencing.