He sat at his computer and blinked at the words on the screen. Dry eyelids felt like paper rubbing on his pupils. His neck muscles were ready to call it a night and let his head droop forward. The vivid descriptions and engaging dialogue made no difference—the chapter was off. Something about it just didn’t fit. He was stuck, floating in his own mind.
That was me on earlier this week. I worked through a chapter Sunday morning—let’s call it Chapter X. I got the words on the page that felt appropriate. As I reread it, a needling in the back of my think-blob flagged it as “NEEDS REPAIR”. I had some household duties that required my attention, so I told myself I’d check back with it Monday during lunchtime. Instead, I worked through lunch (day job work, not manuscript work) so it would have to wait until after the little humans went to bed later that night.
Dinner, bath, books, and bedtime happened. I could finally scratch the itch that had been bothering me for more than a day. Chapter X, ready or not here I come. I read through it with the changes. It read okay. I tweaked a line, polished a word or two, but for the most part, it looked up to snuff—to my eyes. My brain disagreed but wasn’t kind enough to help me understand why.
I sat before the screen and stared. The words lost their meaning. It felt like I was floating up toward the answer, but it bobbed just out of my reach. What was it? Too much dialog? Not enough? Should the setting be somewhere else? I thought about moving on to another chapter. I’d come back and visit Chapter X with clear eyes. So I read the next section. Chapter X+1.
I felt the heat from the lightbulb over my head as it flashed on. I had to kill Chapter X. Whack it. Send it to Davy Jones’s locker. Chapter X was an unnecessary appendage that weighed the story down. I removed it and read from Chapter X-2 through to Chapter X+2, and everything flowed smoothly. That’s why Chapter X felt off—it wasn’t supposed to be there.
Going back a bit, before I started editing each chapter, I read through the whole thing to make sure it flowed the way I intended. I rearranged some sections, added one or two, and removed a handful. A developmental edit. Chapter X snuck through, sneaky little so-and-so. I thought I caught all the areas that needed cutting. Wrong. I’m sure I will come across one or more chapters that should be axed. Kill your darlings, as they say. It’s all about finding what stinks and cutting it.
Rather than cutting it first, then finding what stinks.
In spite of floating for two days, I made substantial progress this week. I’m up to Chapter 17. The this round of editing is still on pace to finish early-to-mid-ish November. It’s challenging. And it’s still fun despite those pesky rogue chapters that crowbarred their way into the story. Who put those there, anyway?
That’s why we edit.