Editing the Forth Bridge

This is the Forth Rail Bridge, for those not familiar with the structure:

Picture of the Forth Rail Bridge

Pretty impressive.

It spans the Firth of Forth on the east coast of Scotland and connects Edinburgh with the Kingdom of Fife.

Edinburgh folk have a saying: ‘It’s like painting the Forth Bridge,’ which is used to describe any task that takes so long to complete that as soon as you do, you have to start all over again at the beginning, rendering it endless.

Now, I’m not suggesting my novel is as huge, impressive and complex as the Forth Rail Bridge. But the editing process involved in working through eighty plus thousand words, from one end to the other takes a while, believe me. Especially when you do it over and over again. As well driving me demented, this process has made me realise that the ability to know when to stop is something all writers, or at least all writers who hope to write more than one book in their lifetime, need to have.

Unless you force yourself to stop, editing can easily become an endless cycle. The thing is, while  you’re editing, life continues happening to you,  your brain continues to absorb experiences and to process them. If you keep your mind open, which as a writer you must, then stuff gets in. It gets in and it gives you more ideas.

So you go back, and you start again, cutting those bits you now realise are redundant, expanding others, writing in those new bits that have only now occurred to you, despite the fact that of course they should have been there all along. This takes a while, and while you’re doing it…That’s right: more stuff, more changes, more of those pesky ideas.

At some point you have to stop because you end up chasing your own tail. You could write the same book over and over for your whole life and it would never be finished, until you are. When that point comes, I’m guessing it’s going to be pretty tricky to do that final edit.

As I finally force myself to surrender the page proofs and let the book go to print, I’m coming to accept it’s never going to be perfect…but it is going to be finished.


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