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Done At Last!
By Jennifer Edelson
June, 2007, 15:30

Done at last!

How many times have I said that? Well, two hundred and sixty two times to be sort of exact. Yes, sadly, I keep track.

Although I technically finished writing my book two years ago, I have been chopping it to pieces ever since. And not out of love. Or because I have some romantic notion it will ever be perfect.

The problem is, I have no sense of my own work, and canít tell if the things I write succeed in doing what I want them to. My manuscript had a story, and a structure, but what I couldnít do, was get a feeling for the novelís essence. I couldnít tell if I wrote my story in a way that grabbed the reader; whether it was too stiff, or contrived; whether the reader would be able to relate; or whether it was even worth reading.

Stylistically I just couldnít get a handle, and as a result, re-wrote sentences and restructured paragraphs and scenes so many times, something always needed fixing. I just couldnít figure out when to stop, and toward the end, more or less changed a word or sentence for its rhythm. But the problem was, my interpretation was mood dependant. So every new edit hinged on the frame of mind I was in at the moment I read the manuscript. I could literally like the way something sounded one hour, but not the next.

It got really bad when I realized I was re-writing sentences and paragraphs so they read exactly that same as they had a couple edits before. It wasnít intentional, but Iíd change something, then a week later change it back (not knowing it had ever been that way to begin with). I kept making changes, until it got to this point where I seriously had no clue why I was even making them, like I was on autopilot.

When I first finished the book, and started editing, I began with one hundred and thirty thousand words. Over two years, I scaled back to eighty-nine thousand. Because after reading a sentence so many times, the words had lost their meaning and significance. Nothing sounded good anymore and things stopped making sense. I just got lost in it. And rather than try and re-write something just one more time, I started to ditch paragraph after paragraph, which maybe wasnít the best decision.

Among the many things that affected my objectivity was the fact that my story was not meant to be a real novel, at least not to start with. I began writing it as sort of an exercise, figuring if I could make it past one hundred pages, Iíd prove to myself I have the fortitude to write (with a capital W that is). That I could then sit down and produce a real novel, one that people would want to read, or at least, one that made sense.

Clearly, part of the problem is/was my attitude. I went into writing the manuscript thinking of it as an exercise, and never was able to take it seriously as a book. So no matter what I did, I assumed the writing lacked merit (and sadly I often still go back to that). Then eventually, I just got completely lost in the process, which complicated everything I thought was wrong with the story.

Iíd like to say that something big and glossy, or completely logical finally put an end to it. But what happened was, there was this contest I really wanted to enter, and I only had a limited time to submit. So I took every spare minute I had and tried to focus; tried to fix only the things that jumped out at me so bad they were blinding, and left the rest, knowing at one point Iíd have to stop for good (and boy was it hard to be objective). I focused on polishing up the things I really liked, got rid of a few scenes I had only kept around for sentiment's sake, and tied very hard to mostly just clean up the writing, but not content.

I still wasnít crazy for my manuscript by the due date, but I had to get rid of it. So I am finally through. Once I hit that Send button, there was no turning back. Psychologically, Iím done. Forever and for real good.

In hindsight, I think I needed something structured to get me going Ė a defined end-point. Because but for that contest, Iím pretty sure the manuscript would still be locked in my desk, indefinitely waiting. Now I know I need structure, self-imposed deadlines that I absolutely have to abide by, among other tricks. Itís a learning curve that will take me a while to get around. But itís a beginning. The contest may, and likely will, amount to nothing. But Iíve learned an invaluable lesson about editing, and that alone, has been worth the effort.
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Jennifer Edelson is a former practicing Minnesota attorney, now regular IN columnist, freelance writer and legal writing professor. Her writing has appeared on all the finest refrigerators in the Twin Cities. Jennifer can be emailed at:

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