Other Eyes and Beatles Wisdom
“It is better to take pleasure in a rose than to put its root under a microscope.” …Oscar Wilde.
There comes a time in every editing endeavor when each wall you face is an Everest and each knot Gordian in its complexity. You have taken your work apart, dissected and resected every sentence, paragraph, and chapter. You know your characters inside out and have removed every extraneous pronoun, preposition, and adverb, but still it’s not right.
Chances are, while slogging through dense literary underbrush, you have not only lost sight of the forest, but also the trees. This is the boundary beyond which all the rules in the world will do you absolutely no good. In fact, chances are you are in this predicament in part because you’ve become so caught up the rules and craft of writing that you can’t get out of your own way. What started as a labor of love has simply become a labor, and the task ahead so dwarfs your spirit, a big part of you wants to just pack it all in. The only thing that will save you is an immediate dose of Big-Picture perspective.
But how to get that perspective? First, get thee to a writers’ group. For years I was a solitary writer, scribbling away in sordid isolation, the only critical voice in my head my own and that of a friend or two and family who were too kind to be helpful. Then I joined a local writers’ group; for 5 years it was the best thing I could imagine. (Now I am part of a different group and it’s even better, but that’s another story.) A serious writers’ group is a sounding board, a place to bring your work and gain perspective. This works for finished work that might need a little tweaking here and there, but is even more important for that paragraph or chapter you just can’t pull together. Ideally, other writers will come at the work from their own perspectives. Like Google Earth, they can help you see – and reclaim – the forest you have lost.
If that doesn’t work – or no group is available to you – I like to follow a path suggested by the Beatles and just let it be. Stick your manuscript in the desk drawer for a week – or four – and just forget about it. Work on something else, take a trip, go to the circus. Just let your mind wander where it will. Do not, under pain of being stripped of quill and vellum, obsess over your tale. When your mind is clear, your soul refreshed, go back and approach the piece anew. It doesn’t always help but it never hurts.
Ultimately, no matter how you get there, returning to the Big Picture is about returning to the heart of your work, to the magic that inspired you to tell a particular story in the first place. So when you feel beat up by the editing process, just step back and try looking with different eyes. Trust yourself. You’ll find your way home.