On The Cusp of Red

Today will be an editing day. One of the failures of the written word is that they can’t always express the full dread content of the idea they’ve been tasked with representing. When you read the words, “Today will be an editing day,” what do you think? Do you think, “Oh, how nice. Scott, has his day planned out. I’m sure he’ll be successful in his endeavors.” Or are you of the “Oh, editing? Me-oh-my, I certainly hope you don’t get a paper cut. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish digging this ditch. Remember to stretch before you take the cap off your red pen!”

What those words should do, if the English language were capable and if I were a worthy enough manipulator of them, is fill your soul with dread of a similar variety and of a similar degree felt by folks enjoying a lovely excursion in one of those Charon liners that do those Styx River Cruise tours. Every letter should have pockets, and those pockets should be full of dead things.

I don’t like to edit. And without question, the part of editing that I hate the most is… starting. That first moment when the printed MS is on my desk, or my lap, or my lap-desk… the instant the cap comes off the pen, (after I’ve finished stretching, of course), and the second that my heart finally commits to the act – that is a moment of dread.

Once I actually get going, it’s never as bad as I anticipated. For one thing, I’m a fan of the author whose work I’m editing, and he generally surprises me, writing something a little better than I thought him capable. Secondly, in 99% of the cases where the red ink appears, the resulting change strengthens the overall work, and so is good. I also often leave myself notes as I’m going through. Sometimes they are reminders to fix something somewhere else. Sometimes they are little pats on the back. One that appears frequently is “HA!” I suppose I feel it was a line worthy of a laugh, and now I know it got at least one.

And yet I procrastinate. Universally. It is part of the process now. It goes like this:

  • Finish writing a book
  • “Celebrate”
  • Sober up and deal with hangover
  • Remember having finished writing a book
  • Realize that means I have to edit it now
  • “Lament”
  • Sober up and deal with hangover
  • Remember all of the above again and fight the urge to “Re-Lament”
  • Print a paper copy of the entire MS
  • Hope that the printer runs out of ink so that you have to go out to buy more and can put off editing a little longer
  • Curse Hewlett Packard for their high-yield cartridges and straighten the stack of papers that represent the last few months of your life.
  • Find your red pen
  • Begin procrastinating in earnest
  • Exhaust the last of your procrastination chips
  • Edit the damn book
To those folks who like to enlarge the photo of someone’s printed work, (like me for example), this is a super-secret project, so I’d ask you to forget anything that you read, even if you need to hit yourself in the head with a hammer to do so. I’ll even lend you a hammer. Also please notice the vial of Tiger Balm in the background and feel sorry for me because I need liniment. Thank you.

A truly productive author would skip everything between the first and final item on the list, but those are the authors we don’t talk about, and certainly never invite to our super-secret author cabals. (And let me tell you, you never want to be outside the cabal looking in!)

And even a minimally productive author, like myself, will eventually get to the end of the list, and it will be time to start the work.

A truly gifted procrastinator can find approximately 320 kwanzillion things that he must legitimately complete before he could ever consider editing his book, (or sobering up for that matter).

One of my go-to alternate activities is writing blog posts. Alas, I’ve tipped my hand. Surely if you weren’t already, you’re onto me now. This entire post was just me exhausting the last of my procrastination chips. This is me going all in.

But as is always the case when the cards are laid down, I’ve lost my stockpile, and it’s time to get to work.

Besides, I’ve clearly already printed the MS and found my red pen.

Okay, then.


I guess I’ll get to it.

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