Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Name is Maggie, I'm a Perfectionist, and I Never Stop Editing

And I think this is okay.

I know a lot of writing advice out there encourages you to kill your inner editor and let your work run free and to release mental possession of your draft. I know this advice is trying to battle the scores of writers out there who cling to their drafts, picking over them instead of working up the courage to send them out to critique partners, agents, and mothers. But I'm not sure I really like this condemnation of continual editing as a universal truth. For a beginning writer? Yes, I think there's some sense to it. You have to learn how to tell when a first draft is done. You have to learn how to give it away. But once you've finished a novel or two, I don't see why writers should be encouraged to think perfectionism is a dirty word. For me, "done" is such an intuitive thing. I can tell when my novels are done when they stop needling at me. When I stop thinking of things to do to them. When the characters are no longer acting out scenes in my dreams. It can't be about the fear that I haven't covered everything. It has to be that feeling that the movie in my head has reached the last reel. Until that happens, I edit and re-read and tweak and move one word three sentences down the page. Though a reader might not notice that you changed "cold" to "icy" on page 47, a word by word attack on a draft can change the subconscious effect of it on a reader.

So yes, I am an unrepentant fastidious editor.

I think this pretty much goes for every element of my life. So it should surprise no one when I say that I edited the recipe for November Cakes. A few months I posted about how I was delighted to have invented a food for THE SCORPIO RACES, and then I added a recipe. Well, it was still niggling at me. They were fine, but FINE IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH. I spent several months turning over possible solutions to my perceived unhappiness with my first November Cakes recipes, and then . . . I edited it.

Yesterday I tried out my fix. Of course it was hugely better. The cakey bit was fluffier, richer, more nuanced. The glaze was gooier and clung to the crevices of the cakes better. The entire consistency was improved. Now you bite through a caramel-honey glaze with a bit of resistance and into a fluffy, sweet dough beneath. That was what I was trying to do before.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that you shouldn't kill your inner editor. Just set up boundaries for her. Also, use this recipe and not the other.

*click for a bigger version
November Cakes Recipe II

November Cakes II

November Cakes II
and, right out of the oven, while the glaze is still melty:
November Cakes II
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