Every writer knows that, though actually writing the story can be hard, the real misery starts when you begin editing. It’s boring, it’s time-consuming, and it hurts. Hunting for spelling and grammar errors is one of most fun jobs there is. (hear the sarcasm there?) Searching for each and every little error and trying to find the problems in the “big picture” can take forever. Cutting those lovely scenes into bits and stitching them back together feels like performing plastic surgery on yourself. Without local anesthesia.
I just finished the second draft of my short story “Hunter – Make a Monkey Out of Me”. There’s not much scene-chopping in a short story, not for me, anyway, but the “sound” is important. With a short story, you don’t have much time to “develop” the voice for the book. In a longer story, you can gradually immerse the reader in the style of the book. With a longer story, the reader automatically expects you take more time setting up the story, the style, the action, etc.
With a short story, you’ve got none of that. The 4K of one of my short stories is shorter than the first chapter of some books. I just spent several hours correcting spelling, grammar, and tone. In four thousand words. I can WRITE a four thousand word short story in a day and most of my readers can finish the story in less than thirty minutes. But it still takes two or three hours to proof read.
Most of that time isn’t spent on grammar or spelling. It’s spent connecting orphaned dots and making sure my character sounds right. It’s spent biting my pen as I try to come up with a phrase that fits better than the original, while still saying the same thing. That time is spent to making sure I didn’t dump my reader into a world I’m already familiar with, but they’ll fumble around, trying to make sense of what I’m throwing at them.
I just spent several hours editing that short story, but I’m not done yet. I’ve got to have my beta readers go over it again. They’ll tell me if the story gets the job done or leaves its tools lying around on a half-build conclusion. They’ll tell me where they’re confused and where I’m explaining too much. They’ll tell me whether or not the jokes are funny, or if they’re just flat. They’ll tell me if they want to read more, or if they never want to hear from the character again.
After all that, back to my desk, for another session with my red-ink pen. I might even be done after that, but I won’t bank on it. However, I keep telling myself it’s all necessary. I want this story to be as good as possible. I’m a writer and I want to get better. That means practice and hard work and editing is part of that practice. Even though it’s no fun.
To borrow a point from my all-time favorite commentator on life:
This says it all, Mr. Watterson.