You've seen the articles and the personal experiences from other writers. The tales of the grind. All the creativity and wonder that was the first draft, examined under a microscope for every error and confusing sentence structure in the next. The editing process is the most important step to getting your work out to an audience, yet it can be the most brutal.
Have you ever wondered how many potentially amazing novels, screenplays, and articles are just hanging in edit limbo, never to be seen by anyone? Let's face it, how many times have your creative bombshells hit the paper only to be brought to a screeching halt the second time you run through it? I know some of my own work needs my attention. Hell, some of my work doesn't even make it out of my brain. Some ideas work so much nicer dancing as concepts, floating in my imagination, free from the reality that the plot doesn't come together and the characters are only interesting to me.
And that's what editing really feels like. It's killing all those untamed ideas that want to run off wild into the far pastures. But, you know the truth deep down. Those ideas need to be wrangled in, brought to bear, and sometimes totally destroyed. How terrible! It's enough to bring the most inspired moments to a standstill.
How do we break that grind?
Favorite School Subject: Recess
Elementary school had it right. You have to break up multiplying fractions and writing in cursive with some quality jungle gym time. The same principle holds true for the creative process. No matter how much you love what you do, whether it's writing, drawing, or cold calling random houses about credit cards they don't have, there will be aspects that aren't fun. So, you have to take a break from those things. You need to jump off the figurative playground swings and fly through the air for a little bit.
For the creative person, this means allowing your imagination to take over for a bit, and sometimes we need a little help to get the ball rolling.
The Movie Adventure
I don't know what it is, but going to the movies always feels like a mini adventure to me. I like getting there for the First Look or the Twenty, or whatever the twenty-minute commercial is called before the commercials for other movies start. I don't know why. Maybe it's the anticipation building. Maybe I like to forget what the hell I'm even watching by the time the twelve different production company logos pretend to be the start of the movie. Who knows?
What I do know is, I can take the stories from movies way too far. A good movie gets me thinking about the characters and what may have happened after the credits roll. A really legendary story will get me thinking about my own stories within that universe. Now, I haven't succumbed to the temptation to write fan fiction (yet), but I have developed characters in my brain and plot lines, swimming in the ether, that allows me to purely create. It's like letting my imagination go out to recess and not worry about the spelling test that's coming when the bell rings. I can develop a character's personality and fit in a story that makes sense in the given universe. If only people knew how many badass Jedi there are running around in my head.
Call it a waste, taking time from stories that I actually should be writing, but not only is it fine to let your imagination run wild, it's completely necessary. There have been story elements that I have placed in my own work that started from my creative play time. It also allows for me to stop hating how poorly my sentences flow and get back to the pure creation of fiction writing that has made me fall in love with doing all of this in the first place.
Sometimes, though, you need to really put yourself in the middle of a story.
The Death Mountain Hop
There's nothing like virtually breaking pots and cutting grass to get yourself away from the headache of editing. Yet, video games just might be the most attacked past time for being a complete waste of life. Maybe, it's more on my own radar because, if anything takes me away from writing, saving Hyrule and doing laps around the Normandy are the worst offenders. There are days I kill way too much time playing games, but there are times it has been completely beneficial for my push through editing.
For the most part, video games allow you to truly become someone else. You take on a role and course your way through a plot, in a way that other genres of storytelling can't quite match. There's an investment in the puzzles that are completed and the hordes of bipedal turtles that are jumped on. The imagination can invest in something other than sewing up the ragged edges of your own story for a little bit.
There's also an inspiration factor. Video games have a unique edge on other stories, especially the lengthy RPG. There's time to explain every detail. The world building can be as meticulous and expansive as the creators want. Anything that doesn't fit into the actual plot, can be placed in a codex and unraveled as a player explores the world around them. Those details can let the imagination bask in the pure creation of another creative mind. Those details may not even come into play, but still add depth to the world around the player.
The Witcher is the perfect example. A story based off of folklore and other works in such a detailed fashion that every monster you face has some background to go with it. It was enough to make me dive back into the source material, curious about where all these folklores came from, and how the writers utilized them for their own story. Then I got my own ideas and, oops, I wrote a book inspired by my research into those medieval cultures. Indulging my imagination sure seems like a good idea.
Put Your Feet Up
Watching movies, TV and playing video games won't help at all if you don't relax. It's something you have to allow yourself to do. It almost takes practice. I mean, I have too much practice, but still. We can get so caught up in our own schedules and things we have to do, it's hard to relax. I've had near nervous breakdowns knowing that I just have to edit that chapter, I have to develop that character, this scene is never going to work, I need a new story right now, I have to post something to my blog, to Medium, I can't let people forget my articles...then my brain just explodes, which is always good for finishing a creative project. I can stress myself out better than anyone I know, and if you are like me, you are pretty good at stressing yourself out too.
Think about it this way; we should enjoy the creativity of others because that's what we hope an audience will do with our own work. Yes, it's about balance. Yes, I do in fact, have to get that chapter edited today. But, I also can't let my creativity get bogged down in the overwhelming labor of the doing.
So, go let your creativity play. Set a time for it, make it a part of the schedule you keep wishing you had made for the week. Allow yourself to enjoy it. Then get back to work, refreshed, with new ideas that may just work their way into your own stories.