In addition to buckling down on editing my novel, I’ve been trying to put an equal effort into editing a movie script a friend wrote. I’ve been doing a kind of “one for him, one for me” approach, where if I put an hour into my book, I also put an hour into the screenplay. It’s been working pretty well and I’m actually making some progress. (Side note: Interestingly, I’m also noticing an energy shift. After a few years of doing my writing in the morning before work, I’m now working in the evening again. No idea why my brain has suddenly decided it wants to work this way. As long as it’s working, I’m just going to let it do its thing.)

I’ve spent so long editing my own novel that it’s a bit weird to be looking at someone else’s work. I mean, I go over my peers’ work at my writing meetings, but those are short pieces and quick reviews. Editing the whole screenplay is more of a deep dive that will involve several re-readings and a more in-depth review than I can usually give the pieces I read in my groups.

The process, on paper, is the same as what I do with my novel. In reality though, I find it very different because this work isn’t mine. I don’t know it like I know my book. While I’m familiar with the setting and mythology of this script (it’s the sequel of a movie I know well), I certainly don’t know it on an instinctive level like I know my novel’s world. I don’t know every secret and motivation that every character hides. No matter how many times I read this screenplay, or re-watch the first movie, I will never know this work like I know my own.

I struggle terribly with editing my novel because everything is clear to me – I know it inside-out. I can’t see how someone unfamiliar with my world will put the pieces together (or fail to do so). I’m also miserable at cutting anything out because in my mind, this is just how the story is. They go to A, they do B, then they go to C. I can’t see anymore that maybe B is totally extraneous and we could just go straight to C.  

And that’s the benefit of looking at something from the outside. I’m able to look at my friend’s screenplay with a bit of distance. Being less involved lets me say “While A, B and C are great, have you considered ditching B and trying D?” Getting that kind of perspective is why I gave my book to other people. I need them to tell me the things they see that I can’t.

So while the editing process is theoretically the same for both pieces, I’m finding it very different. In my “one for him, one for me” model, the hour I spend on the friend’s screenplay feels like a very creative process. I’ll read his scenes and think “this is great, but what about adding this?” I read his work and while I might cut a few things here and there, overall it inspires new ideas in me and gets my brain moving in new directions. It’s very exciting to be discovering the nuances of his work, being taken to places I didn’t expect to go, and coming up with new ideas to expand on what’s already on the page.

Editing my book feels like a much more reductive process; I’m trying to separate the wheat from the chaff. Even when I think something needs to be rewritten or added for clarity, it feels less inspiring and more “how am I going to reshape this to squeeze the new bit in?” It’s like having a complete sculpture and realizing you got the nose wrong, so now you’re figuring out how you’re going to take the old nose off and put the new nose on without wrecking the rest of it. It’s more problem-solving than creating.

I don’t mean this in a “editing my book sucks” kind of way. I’m just finding the difference between the two to be interesting since in theory they should be the same thing. The acrobatics of my mind and the knots it ties itself into about seemingly identical things is an endless source of fascination for me. I haven’t learned so much about myself as I have with writing since I was in my late 20’s and talking to a therapist for the first time. Hopefully I’m not boring you all to death with it.

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