Lessons from Oleander–The Dangers of Premature Editing
I love to garden, but I am terrible at reading instructions, which means I am not going to read a How To book or gardening blogs, because I already have enough to read and this would steal time from my great joy…digging in the dirt. This means that, over the years, I’ve learned a lot through trial and error.
Code for : Killing Stuff
Almost five years ago, we bought our first home. We got a sweet deal on it, but it needed work. The yard was little more than mowed field. I couldn’t wait to get in and pretty it up. I slaved for hours in triple-digit Texas heat digging holes and clearing land for gardens. I’d always loved oleander and when I found them on sale at the local nursery, I was ecstatic. Normally, oleander this size were over $100 but I got each for less than $20. I planted one on each corner of the house and dreamed of how beautiful they’d be when they matured.
Then we had the most freakish, freezing winter in Texas history. I’d never even seen snow before and suddenly we were buried in eight inches of it.
The Canadians can all stop laughing now. You guys have things like PLOWS, SNOW SHOVELS, SNOW TIRES…and COATS.
Anyway, the oleanders that seemed to be doing okay during the mild fall were obliterated. When early spring came, I cleaned up all the dead stuff and dug out all the oleanders and threw them away. All except one because I ran out of energy.
Much to my horror, guess what sprouted once it got warmer?
My last remaining oleander. *sniffles*
To this day, I can’t look at that oleander without grieving the other four. I feel so foolish. What if I’d just been patient? What if I hadn’t been so quick to judge what was “dead”?
This is what premature editing can do to our story. When we start hacking away and digging stuff out too soon, we have no idea what treasures we might be tossing in the garbage. Never underestimate what your subconscious is capable of doing. Our subconscious mind is planting seeds along the way that can eventually sprout into ideas better than we imagined. Editing too soon can ruin that magic and toss it in a Hefty bag, just like my poor oleanders.
Tips to Avoid Premature Editing
Candace Havens teaches a method called Fast Draft. You write the entire novel in a matter of two weeks. No stopping, no looking back. No editing. This is my preferred method, because I am notorious for editing stuff to death. In the novel I just finished, I forbade content editing. There were times I thought what I was writing was ridiculous. SHEER MADNESS. But, as I got closer to the end, I realized my subconscious was far smarter than I am. I ended up with a richer, deeper story that I never would have been able to consciously plot. Because I didn’t uproot those seeds of inspiration, I was finally able to watch them bloom into something far more remarkable.
Thus I challenge those of you who might have a tough time finishing. Give permission to simply WRITE. Your subconscious might have a miracle in store for you.
Allow yourself to correct typos, punctuation and grammar ONLY. Anything else that you believe needs to be changed, make a note of it in a different color. Then keep moving forward.
I know this isn’t for everyone. Every time I talk about this topic, I get a half a dozen comments from people who just can’t bear to not edit. Of course, many of them don’t have finished books, either.
In the end, these are tips. You have to find what works for you. But I would at least give these methods a try. You can always slay the superfluous adverbs later ;).
What are your thoughts? Have you ever gotten overzealous and edited the heart out of a story and later regretted it? What tactics do you use to keep from editing too soon? Does editing early not bother you?
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