Our Year of the Novel blogger, Caro, has let things go, and it’s turned out to be a good thing for her manuscript.
If you could see what I’m writing at the moment, you’d look away. I’ve done the literary equivalent of letting myself go, and it’s ugly.
For a start it’s unclean. There are typos and misplaced commas and I’m developing a twitch from trying to ignore the squiggly red line Microsoft Word keeps drawing under everything. It’s also unshaven – without a hand to pluck out all but the best phrases, it’s rough, patchy and kind of unsightly. Most alarmingly, it’s chubby. Descriptions ramble across pages and excess adjectives sprawl from chapters like so many muffin tops.
This isn’t how I usually write. I used to be a copy sub, and I’m sure there are plenty out there who will agree with me that cleaning up text isn’t a job, it’s a compulsion. I’ve done my bit for the grammar vigilante movement (defacing the occasional sign and giving the occasional lecture) and for the most part my copy-subbing itch is a compulsion I’m happy—and even proud—to live with. But lately, it’s been getting in the way.
When you’re writing short fiction, you can get away with a spot of self-editing. Short stories need to be tight, and editing as you go is one way to achieve that.
However, over the course of a longer project, self-editing seems to create large problems—at least, that’s what I’m learning along the way. It’s not just about wasted time and focus, the habit has been interrupting my flow and silencing ideas before they have a chance to emerge.
So I’m on a self-imposed ban editing ban and—to my surprise—it seems to be working. Granted it’s difficult, and the work I’ve written is unsightly. But there’s an element of liberation in letting yourself go, something I’ve never experienced while tweaking commas and apostrophes.
The words I’ve written will, of course, need editing bootcamp and beautification later. But it makes much more sense to do that after I know what direction the narrative is moving in, and exactly what themes I’m trying to embed. For now, there’s so much freedom in embracing the ugliness for what it is: the beginning of something better.