Collegiette Living

Editing a Novel

While others are packing their winter coats to head back to school with the lost glimmer of the holiday spirit fading in their eyes, I’m still bathing in the California sun and getting ready for the next part of my year! As you might know, I am on a gap year from college—traveling, writing and working. Right now, I’m still in the swing of the “New Year, new me” mentality, working on making my goals and swinging through them. Hello organizational planning, goodbye unneeded calories! After all, summer bodies are made in winter—do they still say that? So with such blessed time on my hands, what could possibly stress me out?

NaNoWriMo logo
Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

That’s right, National Novel Writing Month. I know, you are thinking—National Novel Writing Month is in November, honey, that ship has sailed. And it did sail, I jumped on that ship, and now I am sinking this ship and metaphor. Let me break it down: In November, I joined NaNoWriMo and completed a 50,000-word manuscript. It was hellish and brutal, but I survived.

What I completely forgot about this process when I began is that afterwards I am stuck with this clumsy, half-written, Picasso-esque mashup of a screaming, crying fetus novel. Retrospectively, I ought to have expected this. The entire September and October of NaNoWriMo, we were being prepared as the story we planned to write was growing in our minds. In November, our stories were forcibly pushed out of us and onto paper. There was bloodshed, there were tears, there were many wasted pages of ink. Now that I have properly cemented that horrifying image of pregnancy labors into your mind, I feel something like Alice when she is left with Duchess’ horrifying, crying child that later turns into a pig and is never seen again.

My feeble attempt to recreate a more “me-like” version of Tenniel’s illustrations in five minutes.

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen with this novel. So as I’m preparing myself to go into the editing and rewriting process for this novel, I wanted to talk about novel-writing and my frustrations.

  1. I’m not an English major. Contrary to what my parents and friends believe, I am not pursuing English as a primary major. I am an international relations/political science major with an interest in English. I love books, I constantly read, I obsess over literature, I want to be a journalist and that requires good writing, but I am not an English major. Would I like to spend my days studying modernist literature and Southern Gothic for the rest of my life—yes, that sounds lovely. I might double major in English, but politics/IR will always be for me as well. I want to make a difference in the world. I know it’s cheesy and maybe a bit naive, but I believe that a life spent in public service such as government, nonprofit or journalism is an honorable one—if this was a Western cowboy film, you get to wear the white hat. How could you give that up?
  2. But English literature/creative writing is my roundhouse. Part of why I like international relations/politics is because it is harder for me and I have to engage myself to learn. On the other hand, writing comes naturally to me. It’s not always perfect and I do stumble, but I’m never short of story ideas or thoughts. I’m also more aware of my shortcomings and how to overcome them. With literature, I have a self-awareness of my own writing and it’s a frustration that is overcome by more writing.
  3. My novel is a mess. It is a compilation of sensitive and intensely felt, promising prose. So I wish. (If you got that “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” reference, I toast my Danish and coffee in your direction. 😉 ) In truth, the 50,000-word manuscript is a hot mess. It is more sarcasm, witty one-liners, half-done plots and a sad excuse for a draft. I honestly don’t even know where to begin in all of this, which leads me to my next point.
  4. I don’t know how to edit this. I am generally good at editing. I was a copy editor for a school newspaper, I was editor-in-chief of my high school magazine, I proofread and copy edited for a news organization this past fall. I proofread my roommate’s resume and I edit other students’ essays. I can handle anything you throw at me, AP Stylebook, Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk & White, New York Times, MLA; but say hello to my own writing and it is like kryptonite. Where do I start? At the beginning? Yet, there are so many gaps missing, what even needs to be filled in these gaps? Do I even have a plot? 

what-does-that-mean gifSo with all my worries, concerns and thoughts regarding this particular novel, I do have something stressing me a little bit as I say goodbye to friends heading back to college. “You’re so lucky,” they bemoan on their way to the airport and I smile, waving, while dying inside at the thought of facing my manuscript once more. At least if I were in East Coast with them, my tears would freeze on face. As they are getting ready to start their spring semester, I’m getting ready to face the worst critic—myself. Wish me luck.



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