Monday, December 3, 2012

When Editing Butts Up Against Perfectionism

For the first time in several years, I put up a Christmas tree. That is, I put up my own tree.
I always spend the two weeks before Christmas in New York City with my daughter, and I help her decorate her tree. Then I spend Christmas with my other daughter, Lynn, who lives in Northern Kentucky. We put up Lynn’s two trees the day after Thanksgiving. That makes three trees. Enough decorating for anyone.
I’m not sure why I put up my own tree this year. I’ll only be home this week. And, I’m not yet glad that I did. I’ve never been like this. I walk by the tree, admire my handiwork, then start picking at the ribbon or bead garland or replacing the ornaments. It drives me nuts.
One of Lynn's tree with my grandchildren
Lincoln & Meredith
It just dawned on me that I do the same thing with writing. I’ll write a page then I'll go back and rewrite it. Then I’ll move on to the next page, but suddenly stop, go back, and fiddle with what I’ve already done. That’s driving me nuts, too.
How do you shut off the internal editor and actually get something done? When is good enough actually good enough?
I think you have to have a check list. If you can finish a page and say "yes" to everything on your list, then egads—move on. Here’s my working list:
  1. Is the reader oriented as to place and time? 
  2. Is there conflict?
  3. Is there balance with the use of description, narrative and dialogue?
  4. Is there conflict?
  5. Does the action on the page move the story forward?
  6. Is there conflict? 
  7. Is enough happening to keep the reader engaged?
  8. Is there . . .? Do I have to say "conflict" again?
  9. Are the emotions clearly stated?
  10. Have I used active verbs?
  11. Am I telling or showing?
  12. Do I have all the periods, quotation marks, commas, etc. in the right place? (I often leave them out. Not on purpose, but because I'm typing too fast, afraid the thought will go puff, vanishing into thin air never to be recaptured.)
  13. Are there any talking heads? Don't you hate it when your characters stand in the middle of a scene looking like mannequins.
  14. Does the story move forward and is there conflict? OK, I’ve already said that enough, but sometimes even constant reminders don't work for me.
Now to that blasted tree.
  1. Are there any holes?
  2. Is the ribbon equally spaced?
  3. Is the garland balanced?
  4. Does every branch have an ornament? You think that’s a bit much?
  5. Does it look beautiful? Is it the prettiest tree I've ever done?
  6. Do I want to dismantle it and start all over? OK, that's a bit obsessive.
If so, dang it, leave the sucker alone. Or, as my Sweetie says, “Stop procrastinating and get back to writing.”
As we all know, you can’t edit a blank sheet of paper. Time to get back to admiring my tree . . .
Happy writing and running, Kathy

P.S. December 16: Just finished one tree. The view from the window is of Broadway and the Hudson River, NYC.

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