I find myself in an odd place in my writing life. After hesitantly coming back from a two-year dry spell in my writing life, I find myself post-NaNoWriMo with about 13,000 words of a story that needs a drastic overhaul, yet unborn though it is. I love pieces of this story, but I find too many formless gaps between the glimmers of what I know should be there. And…how shall I describe it?…the color scheme of the story is all wrong, all faded, yellowed winter afternoon (the way most winter afternoons look here in Colorado, in a year like this where the plains don’t get much snow) and none of the leafy vibrancy I wished for. The story doesn’t sit right in my head. In short, it was imagined wrong, and needs reimagining.
So, on the verge of doing something to a story that I frankly have never attempted before, I thought I’d share with you the way I think about editing — whether it’s editing a manuscript, or, as in this case, editing an idea.
Now, there are two types of editing. The first is the lovely little ‘tidying’ kind where you run around fixing up sentences, moving commas, changing out words. You already know what you want the piece to be, and what it will be if you just take the steps to get it there.
Then there’s the other kind.
What you’ve written has certainly turned into something, alright. The little gleaming idea shards that you collected have melted together into a glass orb, the transparent colors flowing into one another. Misshapen, yes. Alright, badly misshapen. But it’s something, and because it’s complete in its own lopsided way you are sorely tempted to forgive it for being imperfect.
Except the idea-colors strain against one another, each one trying to tell you that it was made for something else, reminding you of your old noble intentions when you chose each one.
And they tell you that it’s not too late.
You must take the glass orb in your hands and smash it against the wall.
For a moment after it leaves your hand and it seems to hang suspended in the air, still in one piece, you wonder what on earth you’ve done. It meets the wall. It shatters. An icy shudder that you cannot stop ripples down your spine.
But as the colored shards fly apart, there’s something like a sigh of relief that floats through the air. The pieces lie on the ground, gleaming, each piece free to be itself, and you can see each lone color for its own beauty.
That’s when you see, with a delightful flash of insight, how they’re supposed to fit together.
I’m always amazed at how almost every project of mine is, at some point, a glass orb that must be broken. Sometimes it’s a paragraph or a single sentence, sometimes the whole piece. Sometimes it has to be broken several times. The point is that before I break it, it always seems impossible, crazy, a mad scheme that only takes me backwards. After I take the plunge, I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner, because it always ends up better.
And, once you get past the fear, it’s fun. How often do you get to break things in the pursuit of creating art?