Writing is the Hare; Editing is the Tortoise

by Alison on October 17, 2013

Some the best and worst decisions in my life have come about due to my inability to wait patiently.

And yes, if you’re reading the above and trying to parse out what it means for my personal life, we are still waiting for this baby to be born. He’s now six days a WEEK past his due date–and counting.

The Great Baby Wait has reminded me how very bad I am with delayed gratification. You see, in my head is a massive Life Check List, containing things both big (write and publish next novel) and small (get tomatoes at store). And inside me is a drive to check things off this list. I love how good it feels to check things off! It’s like Saturday and the month of October and Christmas Eve all rolled together.

due date

And while impatience has often been a motivating factor in good decisions, what I’ve learned these past two weeks is, when overindulged, it’s a terrible quality for a writer.

Right now, my inbox is crammed with sweet emails from friends, hoping this baby makes an appearance soon. And nearly all of them ask the same question: What are you doing with yourself? 

With no work and no infant to care for, it’s really just me and my lazy Chihuahua all day, every day. I am refusing to squander this time–knowing all too well how precious it is–so instead I’m using it to work on my current writing project. Now, Alison of the Past would have been tempted to crank out a 100 new pages in a week, rushing through each day like it was my last on earth, thinking only of that big cosmic check mark she’d get. But instead, Gestating Me is trying to work slowly, work steadily–and I’ve been pretty amazed by the results.

Have I gotten reams and reams of new pages written? Nope! But what I have gotten down on the page feels stronger, cleaner, and better. As an impatient writer, I’ve never been much of an editor. Editing to me is like eating your 5-7 servings of veggies every day. Do I know I need to? Yup! Do I want to? Nope! Do I ever hit this mark? Rarely.

But with this book and my newfound embrace of slowing down, I might finally be getting all those vegetables down. Every day I work on the book for a while, and then, I put it away. I go for long walks on the hills of San Francisco, I cook a lovely meal, I go to prenatal yoga, and I nap. And then tomorrow, I open up my computer and start the process again, moving small pieces of text around, ruthlessly deleting scenes that seemed clever yesterday and now reveal themselves to be what they really are: needless digressions bogging down the narrative.

check list

The truth is: writing is the hare and editing is the tortoise. Writing can be fast and sloppy and too proud to look back. Editing is slower, wiser, and willing to turn around and start all over again just to get the path forward right.

To write a book that sings, you need to be both the hare and the tortoise. You must allow both beasts to sit at your computer and have their days to shine. You can neither be so paralyzed by editing that you cease to move forward (so many projects of mine have come to a screeching halt this very way) or so drunk on the speed of the hare that everything your fingers type seems like spun-gold thread.

If you had given me my druthers, this baby would have been born last week on his designated due date. Oh, the cosmic check mark that would have been! Have baby. CHECK! But having to wait for him has been a gift too, an unexpected check mark about learning the importance of slowing down, as a writer and a mom.

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