Working through the editing of my two main writing projects over the past few weeks has sometimes left me more frustrated and exhausted than I was when writing the original drafts. Working out how to link two not-quite-flowing scenes or explain some not-quite-plausible plot development often seems to require energy and creativity vastly out of proportion to the number of words that get written. What happened to merrily turning out 1000 words a day during National Novel-Writing Month?
I’m sometimes tempted to wish that an editor would come and fix it all up for me, and I occasionally even wonder what it might be like to just give up on it altogether. But I have actually finished the smaller of the two pieces now, despite all of the frustrations that I experienced while editing it, and I feel that asking someone else to fix up the longer one (or giving up) would be copping out when I ought to work on the skills required to complete the project myself. I can call in an editor when there’s something worth editing (and, indeed, I’ve signed up for a workshop on working with an editor later in February).
I’m reminded of a story that I heard from another software developer who had once spent two days searching for a bug. Fixing the bug once it had been identified required only a couple of lines of code to be changed. His boss asked him why it had taken him two days to modify two lines of code, to which he replied that it had taken him two days to find those two lines of code.
The point of the story, of course, is that “work” can’t always be measured by obvious measures like lines of code or numbers of words: just about anyone can churn out words or code but only competent writers and coders can turn out just the right word or program statement. And even they can’t always pluck the right one out of the air on demand.
Programming has made me very familiar with the experience of being stuck on a bug or looking at a seemingly-endless list of features to be implemented, yet eventually reaching a working piece of software despite numerous frustrations, slow points and discouragements along the way. Completing the smaller piece of writing, perhaps, ought to give me the same perspective on writing (though I can feel completely successful only if and when its gets published and people enjoy reading it—watch this space).
Having also increased my hours at Western Sydney University recently, I simply can’t put as much time into my editing as I put into the drafting. I’m still working through ideas for work patterns that accommodate the new hours and I probably haven’t yet adjusted my expectations for what I can achieve. Hopefully the next few weeks will change this and I’ll be able to set some proper goals for March.