Editing long-form fiction is a bit like childbirth. To begin with, it isn’t something that simply happens. You do not think to yourself in one moment “you know, I’m ready for a child” and then have suddenly have a healthy, happy, and fully-functioning baby in the next. There’s a long process that comes before, and at the end, you in all likelihood are probably only have half an idea of what “ready” really means.
In the process of carrying both human children and burgeoning novels, you undergo strange transformations of self. You might deviate between being suffused with life and wonder (it’s really happening, look at this thing I’m making!) and being swamped in moody fatalism (goddammit shit I’m doing everything wrong where did my slippers go). You might suddenly discover that you are not who you thought you were, and have to have a long sit-down every now and then to reflect morosely on what defines you nowadays. You might wish deeply to just get away for a little while, but no matter where you go, you don’t seem to have a choice-your child or brainchild has to come with you. You just can’t do nights out quite like you used to.
It’s possible you resent this thing for the enormous effort of inconvenience you must put into creating it, sometimes, and might also be gaining weight. Your friends who haven’t gone through the same don’t understand, and occasionally ask irritating questions: “When will it be finished?” “Are you a different species now?” “Can you still have sex?” Only you seem to know what you need, and if you have a partner, they’re probably not entirely sure what to do with you. Maybe you’ve read self-help books on how to do this right; maybe none of them helped you. Maybe you wonder what you’re doing with your life.
This, unfortunately, is where my expertise ends. I am in the thick of the editing, the thick of the where does this go and how did this get like that and Good God, is that really what I look like? I have written countless projects, but I feel a life in this one that I want to bring to the world. I feel the love which knows that no one will love my story like I do, and that realizes it is possible no one but me will love it at all.
But if editing really is like childbirth, then here is what I think is true:
Getting the product of your labor out there-out from inside yourself (“I am pushing, you witch doctor”) and out to where others can see-will be messy, time-consuming, and probably at least once lead you to curse at the people trying to help you, especially if it’s your first go-round. When someone asks you if you want to do it all again, you will probably not be alone if your answer is “Hell no.”
But chances are you didn’t start your novel or get pregnant for the sake of the editing or the pregnancy. You did it because of the parts that came before and after, respectively, and as crowded family holiday photos prove for generations, you’re probably going to forget all of this and start it over again.
And remember, writers: there are no condoms in storytelling.