Self-reflection is hard.
Editing is hard not just because self-criticism is hard, but instead because it can be never-ending. It feels as though writing is never done, only done enough. Every time I go back on something I’ve written, anything, there are always tweaks to be made. Mark Twain was known to write edits and annotations in the margins of his already published novels, in a then common practice known as marginalia. I, too, find myself doing this almost any time I re-read something I’ve written. The hard part isn’t the editing itself, it’s knowing when to stop editing.
Plenty has been written about the difficulties and necessities of calculated and detached editing, to be able to kill your darlings; and I’ll admit that this is hard to do. I’ve already had to cut, wholesale, an entire character and plot-line from the novel in this round of revisions in the name of brevity, wit, and streamlining the main plot. This is hard, but so is finding the balance between useful tweaking and obsessive re-working. There’s a compulsion to make every sentence perfect, because nothing is more harmful to creativity than good enough.
But there’s the rub. We are our own harshest critics, and at the same time, we can be our own greatest (and most harmful) champions. There’s an incredible narcissism to believing that you (or I) can be the one to tell the story, but that’s precisely where the discipline to be an honest and harsh critic and editor needs to come into play. It’s about a balance, a difficult and seemingly impossible balance, but one I’m hoping and trying to find.
“…Writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done—so I do it. And it makes me happy when I do it well.”
― Ernest Hemingway