Honey badger editing

So, yesterday I wrote half a chapter in my latest book. It started off as a bit of a rabbit trail off into an idea I’d been considering, but then took a rather long turn and wound up being somewhere around 1500-1800 words by the time I was done for the day. It was definitely longer than I wanted it to be, and in the end, took the characters in a direction that at this point I neither have time for nor want them to go.

Know what I did this morning? Deleted it.

Why? Cause honey badger editor don’t care.

Honey badger
Definitely one of my favorite blog posts for which to find an image.

For the uninitiated, honey badgers are listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Most Fearless animal and, besides having a family friendly documentary about them called Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem, rose to notoriety primarily through a far less family friendly internet video. Though I won’t share it here (it’s not hard to find), it does go to great lengths to talk about how the honey badger–who basically ignores bee stings and can nap off cobra venom–“don’t care.”

It is this attitude that I would submit is perhaps the healthiest for approaching editing. I don’t mean to say that in the sense of not caring about the quality of the story itself. I mean it in the sense that to truly achieve your best work, you must learn to be absolutely fearless.

Think of it this way: Your honey badger editor has only one goal in mind, to create the best possible work that your story can be, and true to real honey badgers, there is nothing, repeat nothing that is going to get in its way.

Have a character you really like but doesn’t add anything? Honey badger don’t care.

Have a turn of phrase you love but is confusing? Guess what? Honey badger don’t care.

If you find yourself wondering, “Can I save this? Can I keep it? Can I squeeze by even though it’s not great?” you might benefit more from a better question.

Does honey badger editor care about this phrase/character/my personal feelings about it if it gets in the way of its goal?

Answer: It doesn’t.

Learning to get over the sentimentality that so easily attaches itself to my work as a writer has been one of the most singularly freeing lessons I’ve ever had the great and terrible pleasure of learning. Remember, if you are bored with your work, if you feel it drags, if you question the importance of your characters/scenes/etc., your reader is not even close to as invested in those things you dread to remove as you are. Honey badger editor cares even less, because as harsh as he may seem making his own personal cocktail out of your blood, sweat and tears, you have to remember that his goal is first and foremost and above all else to tell a good story. Not only a good story, but the best story, the best version of your story, and no amount of whining, tears and defenses by you for the sake of keeping a darling is going to convince him that keeping in the tangential anecdote on page 33 is worth weighing down the infant wings of your little angel before it takes flight. The same is true for your beta-readers and ultimately, your real world readers, who despite their sometimes in your eyes hard critiques of your work are really after the same thing you are (perhaps even more so for their freedom from sentimentality): a good story.

So, does honey badger care about your hobby horses and/or unrelated personal sermons in your work? No.

Does honey badger care about worthless characters, poorly developed plot arcs or cluttered details? No.

Does honey badger care about your work being the best it can be, along with your potential army of readers and hopefully at their head, you? Yes. Yes they do, and you should definitely listen to them.

Momentum, meeting people and the great freedom of the first draft

Happy October everyone! The weather is absolutely beautiful here, with the leaves setting fire in yellows, oranges and reds and a few last resilient greens. The sky is a beautiful blue, the gusts strong and the sun delightfully warm. I hope wherever you live, it is just as blessedly lovely.

Anyway, with both nanowrimo and the end of my latest book now fast approaching, even though I am not going to be participating in the former this year, my thoughts turn to pep talks and encouragements, the little speeches nanowrimo posts about approaching the craft of writing. And, as I find myself with ever greater frequency thinking “That’s good enough for now,” as I write, the film student’s equivalent of “We’ll fix it in post,” I am reminded of just how valid the statement is and how, on the brink of such a creative flurry of writing for so many, it might be a decent piece of advice to pass on.

Now this is not an attitude I think I have always held. I think the many years I have spent editing Machine has taught me many valuable lessons to that particular end (to say nothing of its other innumerable lessons). See, I do strive for excellence in my writing, I do want everything I write to be polished and concise and clear, but my attitude now seems to trend much closer to a cyclical process than I believe it did in the almost immemorial past.

This, I believe, is partly because of my writing process, and partly because of momentum. To the point of the former, I write primarily by the seat of my pants, starting with a beginning, maybe only a concept, character or setting, and an (increasingly malleable if this latest novel is to be any indication) end. Almost anything in between aside from perhaps a few vague images or scenes I want to include comes as I write, writing for me often being far more a process of discovery than initial intent. This process, though really the only way I’ve found myself truly capable of writing the stories I want to write, naturally leaves a great deal of space for rabbit trails, dead ends and loose threads, thereby making the process of editing as I go a fairly useless endeavor. For example, I remember when I first started writing Machine, the colors of the world it takes place in were positively ridiculous. Besides having people of phenomenal skin tones (reds, yellows, greens, etc.), purple mist permeated everything, even to the point of causing residual purple tones in the eyes of people who lived there. The grass and leaves held a strange blue-ish green tint instead of straight greens. It was a decidedly crazy world.

And in the light of the cutting room floor, many of those details were recognized for what they were, which was ultimately unnecessary and distracting.

Which is simply to say that when it comes to writing, you don’t always know where your story will lead you, or who your characters will turn out to be. I’ve talked about that concept before here, with Kraven, and I think it also points to the second idea at play here, that when you are writing, momentum is crucial. Writers will say again and again that writing must be a discipline and a habit as much as it is a creative endeavor, and that if you do not force yourself to write, you won’t. This is absolutely true. I love writing, it’s what I want to do with my life, and yet, if I don’t make time for it everyday–or as close as I can manage–I won’t do it. Writing is getting to know people, in essence practicing relationship, and, well, if you want to get to know somebody, doing so on a consistent and broad basis is important. You may camp on one point for a while–the intricacies of their work for example–but then you move on to new parts of your conversation, what they want to do, their family, friends. So it is with writing. If you stop and edit and edit and edit, you may never get past their work life. Worse, if you do, you may find later that with new information, your old understanding of them is flawed anyway. How painful will it have to be then when you must kill all of your “darlings” and start anew having wasted so much time?

Writing is experience, editing introspection. You must be able to know your work intimately and as close to truly as you can, and such things do not happen in the splashing mess of a first draft. That is merely your broad strokes, a strong female lead, a bumbling hero, a dragon. Then you go in and add details, remix your colors, refine your lines. One simply cannot do this without the big picture first.

So, with these things in mind, for any of you wrimos (or anyone else) out there, go forth with boldness and courage. Meet new people, take the twists, and don’t be afraid if it isn’t perfect. Good luck and blessings to you on this, your next big adventure.