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On Editing, Procrastination, and Fear

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Photo by Michael Mouritz on Unsplash

In art, it's always about fear. If you're comfortable with what you're writing, you're probably not digging deep enough.

I've been editing my first novel, Labour Pains (it's a working title, I'm still debating). I've been editing it for a good two years now, on and off. I took a course in winter 2019 that was supposed to get me through the editing process, and it certainly improved the manuscript, but it wasn't enough. I even asked my creative writing tutor to do a manuscript assessment, and he gave me fantastic feedback. But only in the last couple of weeks was I able to take a long hard look at the book and say, I can do better. This book deserves better.

You see, up until now, it was still, in a way, my personal story. A young mother struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, trying to look like the perfect mom on social media while barely keeping her head above water? Check, check, and check. I kind of merge both my kids into one for dramatic effects, but many of Ashley's (the protagonist) experiences reflect real events. And when I first started writing it, I wrote it in the third person because writing in the first person was too painful. After I finished writing and having survived the early years of motherhood, I had the benefit of hindsight and was able to rewrite the whole thing into the protagonist's point of view. And I thought I had finished.

But writing as a profession isn't the same as writing a diary or a journal. A professional writer (a label I'm reluctant to take as I was never paid for anything I've ever written) takes personal experiences and makes them into a story, with dramas and character arcs and a structure. The trouble was that because I'm more of an inside writer (i.e., planner), my first draft kind of looked finished in terms of structure and story. And because I was still too attached to the story, I refused to see the holes and flaws. I refused to see the ways it could be improved.

In other words, I was afraid to let go of this story. It was my story. And so, I pretended to edit the manuscript: polishing phrases, tweaking the grammar, hunting down typos. But at some point, I realised that if I want to tell it in a way that others will read it and connect with it can't be my story. It needs to be Ashley's story, and it needs to look and feel like a novel. Otherwise, it will forever remain an unpublished manuscript.

Over the last month or so, and especially during a week away with my family and friends, something clicked. I realised I needed to work on the manuscript, that it isn't yet ready. And the edits I need to make are more profound than typos and verb tenses. It's not a complete overhaul, but last week I started looking into significant edits that would improve the story, the structure, and the characters' arcs. I started thinking about it more professionally and less personally.

I’m still no professional. And I would love to tell you that I’ve learnt my lesson and that next time it won’t take me this long. But I don’t know that. To be honest, I don’t know whether I’m detached enough now. It may be yet another stage, one of many, in the process of transforming your personal story into a book. I’ll keep you, as always, updated.


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