Pretend it’s set in stone

One of the agonies of editing a long novel under tight deadline pressure is the fact that everything in the novel right now is malleable. Would that most of it were set in stone! Then I would not be tempted!

I could do without the mental torture of knowing that everything can be changed. I go in with the intent of writing one small scene and then find myself tinkering with a chapter title. Leave it alone! I tell myself. But it could be better. I’m not sure it’s right.

It takes real discipline. Had most of it already been typeset, I wouldn’t think about it. If even most of it were in clean paper manuscript form, like in the old days, if I had already paid a typist to produce clean copies, I would not think of touching it, for I have a practical side, I have worked in publishing and I know when to leave something alone. But this process, where everything is malleable, this is torture. I must train myself not to notice anything but the thing I came to fix, or the narrow area where I must insert something. I must not look right or left. I must not see the things that still seem undone. I have to move on. I cannot dawdle. I have a deadline. My mantra must be: “good enough.”

No need to go into the roots of this, either, although it looks like I’m going to anyway: I am a perfectionist, a meddler, an aesthete, I have strong opinions about everything. At times, this trait has been the death of me–that everything has to be just so. In collaborating, in a musical group, in performance, or with other writers, this aspect of myself is a hindrance. But at least, when working with others, I can consciously let go. I can say, OK, I go with you on this. But in writing the novel I am alone, with only myself to rebel against, with only myself as the tyrant, the ogre, the masterful overlord,  and so raw, unprotected, unarmed, with no illusions, I confront myself, my touchy, insular, controlling, meddling, indecisive, power-hungry, perfectionistic self. And I say good morning, touchy, perfectionistic self: Keep your hands to yourself. Wander in the museum of your own creation and do not touch the artifacts.