The Hard Parts

Recently a dear author friend, Virginia Euwer Wolff, posed what seemed to be a very simple question: What's the hardest part about writing and editing?  As I explored how I might want to answer her question, I realized why I haven't posted anything on my blog recently: it's hard!  What do I say? How do I say it? What's worth writing about? I have lots of ideas, but where do I begin?  Will anyone care? Do I really know what I'm doing?

This exercise to answer Jinny's question has gotten me thinking about what it takes for us to work through our fears and doubts in order to face that which is hard; face it, work through it, and master it.  It takes confidence, it takes time, and it takes a leap of faith.   For someone like me, who fancies herself both an editor and a writer, I fall into the trap of editing myself before I've even put pen to paper or finger to keyboard. I edit myself off the page entirely, so that I find the hardest part of writing to be beginning -- putting words down on that blank page or blank screen. Beginnings are so daunting, so full of promise, so unknown, so vast. You know what you want to say and do, but it all feels so huge and out of control. You know that once you start, you will be in control, but until you make that first mark, it's so very hard.

I equate the feeling to being on skis at the top of a hill, looking down the expanse of crisp white snow. You know what you need to do, you know where (generally) you want to end up, but until you actually take a breath and let the tips of those skis point down the hill and make the first mark in that snow, it all feels impossible. Deep breath.  Remind yourself how gratifying and fun the journey will be once you get going.  And then--you're off! You're soaring! And you wonder what took you so long....

And then, when a new story is asking to be written, you find yourself right back at the top of that vast, daunting ski slope, taking a deep breath and wondering how in the world to begin...again!  And it's then that my editor self takes over...again! 

Editing comes easily to me, but it's not always easy. I think the hardest part of editing a manuscript is being sure that you're completely attuned to the voice of the story you're editing. And by voice, I mean everything from the actual stylistic voices of the narrator and the characters to the more subtle aspects of the storytelling, such as nuance, emotion, motivation, desire, and overall arc. If an editor's not able to find and feel that rhythm in order to be in tune with the voice in which the author's writing, then the editor's not going to be in tune with the author's intentions for the story nor with the character's motives enough to pose the right questions, make inspiring suggestions and instill trust in the author. Editing an author's work is akin to orchestrating a quiet but keen form of back-up harmony for that author's words and ideas. But without being attuned to the song in the first place, such harmony can never be achieved--and so the editor pauses, ever so briefly, to be sure they know how to listen to each new story that crosses the desk.

Taking the leap. Finding the rhythm. Working through the hard parts to dispel the doubts, to listen fully to yourself if you're the writer, to listen fully to someone else if you're the editor.  I suppose, really, the hardest part of all:  Trusting yourself. And when you do, you just have to wonder...what took you so long?

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc