Drafting and Editing

I’m writing a new scene in the middle of the manuscript I’m editing.

The scene was in the original outline, and when I was working on the first draft, I knew the scene would need to be written. But in the thick of the first draft, I wasn’t sure how significant to make the scene, how much detail to go into, or whether I would be repeating character beats or plot that readers would get from the surrounding scenes.

So I helpfully left a note in yellow highlighter in the draft marking where the scene should appear: “3) Dom: dinner, watches Mads watching Marin and Anaithe.”

I have a hard time switching between editing and drafting, however. They are very different mental processes for me, and getting my head out of one space and into the other takes time. When I’m editing, I’m working with an existing scene. I’m trying to improve it. I’m taking out unnecessary words, streamlining the dialogue to make it more natural sounding, adding content to show more clearly character emotions or motivations. Editing is a critical activity, but I have some distance from the text because the scene I’m working on is typically something I originally wrote months ago.

Drafting is a different practice altogether. I’m sitting there with a blank page trying to pull something into existence. I probably have an outline and specific goals for the scene—I need a character to make a discovery, or decide on something important, or communicate something to another character—but I don’t know exactly what actions or dialogue will get my character to the plot point I need. I have to allow myself the mental space to be messy and to figure things out by trying. Maybe the scene will go somewhere I wasn’t expecting, and that’s fine too so long as I keep writing, the characters are acting within their personalities, and the main point of the scene is accomplished.

Switching to drafting when I’m in an editing state of mind is especially hard because that probably means I’m drafting a new scene in the middle of a preexisting manuscript. I’ve just been polishing the previous scenes, pruning out what wasn’t working and sharpening what remains. So I’m expecting the writing to be good, or at least better than it was. Getting myself to then loosen up and write messy for drafting, just to get words on the page, feels wrong. I’m also able to work through more words when I’m editing than when I’m drafting, so drafting also feels painfully slow. I feel like I’m falling behind where I “could have been” in my editing if I hadn’t stopped to add a new scene.

But at the end of the day, there’s important character work to do in this scene I’m adding, and with the rest of the manuscript in place, I do have a much better idea of how long and detailed to make the scene. And no, I don’t love every sentence of the new scene, and I feel like it sticks out from the surrounding scenes because I know it’s not “original.” But slowly it’s coming together, and that’s what editing’s for anyway.

I’ll just have to come back later and smooth it all out.

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