Editing and Burnout

Let’s talk about editing for a minute.

When I was in high school, I hated the editing process. I wrote everything in one draft and submitted it. And guess what? I faced no consequences. I always got A’s on my papers and projects. Even in one of my hardest classes (which I never scored higher than 65 on a test) I would get 100’s on my papers. 

College was different though. When I got to my first day of WRI101, taught by one of my favorite professors to date, we spent days talking about the revision process. We had three drafts of every paper, which in different stages were edited by different people, and ultimately got our letter grade after the third draft. 

At first, I hated this process. I didn’t like rereading my work, let alone did I like classmates reading my work and seeing all of my mistakes and imperfections. It would keep me up at night. 

Until, we read “Shitty First Drafts” by Anne Lamont. This passage from her book Bird by Bird changed my editing life. If you’re interested, you can read it here. I hope it changes your life too.

I am a perfectionist when it comes to my writing, and to top it all off I constantly radiate anxiety – so editing was a no go for a long time. I would write something once and that would be it. I didn’t want to be wrong.

The way that Lamont frames this idea of editing is just enough assertion for me to finally get it. The first draft is shit. The first draft is always shit. Lamont writes that “Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled.” I knew this, for writing is taking pieces of yourself away. Writing is constant suffering. But, to hear it from someone else? From an accomplished author? And to read this in my FIRST college writing class? That’s what I needed. I finally believed in the power of editing. 

Sophomore year comes around, specifically we’ll call it November 2020. I’ve talked about this before, but in that month I wrote more than I’ve probably ever done before in my life. A whole 64,000 words (not including planning, editing, or anything like that). 14,000 to my play Blue Ends and 50,000 towards finishing my untitled novel. 

Blue Ends has become my challenge. After I wrote the first draft, I proceeded to edit it twice. Before the end of the year, I had a third draft. I had never been so proud of myself in my life.

I didn’t look at the play for a month. I didn’t look at it until I had a meeting with my mentor Brett. I worked in a directed study with him, and we are continuing to do so for the next two years that I am at school. It was intense, working with him on this project. He pushed me to write and edit more than I’ve ever done before. He got me in contact with some incredible individuals in the Boston theatre scene, and he even had me hold a table read of my play. Before that, however, I took the liberty of not taking his advice and practically rewrote my play. I hadn’t looked at it in months at this point, and it was March when I had the table read. 

I hated my play. I wanted nothing to do with the original contents. I rewrote the whole play in a week, and edited it once as well. After the table read, I edited, and even after Brett and his girlfriend read it, I edited it again.

So why am I still so unhappy with how it turned out? How am I so unhappy even though when I first wrote Blue Ends I was so proud?

No one ever really talks about editing burnout. At least, the people I follow on social media and talk too in person – no one talks about how much this sucks.

I haven’t opened Blue Ends since the end of April. I cannot bring myself to open it because I think I’ll tear the whole thing apart again and start over. I was so happy with it months ago, and now I want almost nothing to do with it. I edited my heart out for months and months, built up these characters in my mind, and now I can’t bring myself to look at it.

Burnout sucks. It’s something I’m trying to pull myself out of now. I was told I need to read a play a day for six weeks before I could open the document again. Before I could write another play. And I feel bad, but I’ve been pushing off starting to read those plays as well.

The best advice I’ve been able to gather in this situation is being able to give yourself a break. Brett told me this, and for some reason I can’t listen to myself so I took his words to heart. I hope you can take my words to heart – you are allowed to give yourself a break. If you go hard for too long, you will hate what you’re working on, no matter what. In my personal experience, I love all of the characters I work with, but now I want to rip them to shreds.

Self-care is allowed. Breaks are allowed. If you can’t bring yourself to write, try and hone that creativity elsewhere in your life. Getting through the rough patch is hard, but necessary.

If anything, I believe in you. You got this.

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