Why is editing so hard?

As I’ve mentioned before, February is my big Editing Month. I’m not overly familiar with editing – I have a rather limited attention span, and once I finish the first draft of any story, my mind is already on my next project. Resisting temptation is not my forte, to put it mildly. Now that I’ve done NaNoWriMo for so many years, the tendency is even stronger. Because of that, I misjudged completely just how much time I really need. I doubled the time I would estimate for a first draft, and should be at chapter ten or eleven by now. I’m at chapter four.

Editing is much harder than I thought it would be. In comparison first drafts are easy. You’re just getting it written and don’t need to worry about mistakes, if you manage not to get overly self-critical. Revising the plot (finding and filling plot holes, mostly, and fixing the “oops, I changed my mind” parts of the story) is harder. But the second draft is hard. How do I write that long period of time in which nothing exciting really happens, but which is important, without infodumping or leaving out crucial parts? How much do you show, and how much can you tell? My biggest challenge is that I easily visualize settings and scenes, but I find it hard to “see” how characters behave when it comes to those little things.

My favourite out of all my writing flaws is the glances. My characters always exchange glances and send very significant looks towards someone, or their eyes are <insert adjective here>. The looks are long, meaningful, quick, blank, confused, threatening and a whole heap of other things, but I doubt you could ever distinguish all that in real life, particularly if you don’t know the person. I can tell when my friends think I’m stupid or unreasonable (it’s not a very subtle look), or when someone is surprised, very happy, sad or angry, but that’s about it. And even then, eyes never act on their own. I’m not particularly good at reading people, especially those little things that people do (except if they are annoying things), so perhaps it makes sense that I struggle with writing people. (You should really think that a person who draws people so often would find those things easy, but alas)

Another problem area of mine is transitioning from one scene to another, particularly when they sort of belong together. I also struggle with not overexplaining things, or not repeating myself too much. I try to vary, both in sentence structure and dialogue and descriptions, but so far it doesn’t go too well. I struggle with making my character sound distinct from each other too.

At this point it’s probably smart to remind myself that it IS only a second draft, the first second draft I’ve written in nearly ten years. Of course it’s going to be hard. But it’ll be all the more satisfying afterwards. I hope.

The medieval job search

In my last story I had a character in a medieval-like setting who desperately needed a job. Any job. From the top of my head I could only remember those occupations that have made their appearances in fantasy- and historical novels, and that list is not very long nor very objective. The people seem either to be clergy or sorcerers, rulers or nobility or their advisors/stewards, servants/slaves, people working at inns, people working at farms, some manual labourers, fighters/assassins, sailors and merchants. If there are more they are very minor characters. Where are the butchers? The bailiffs? The atilliators?

So when I searched for a job for my character I wanted him to have a job that already existed, but not one that had been done do death already (see the above). There were so many different jobs in the medieval times, including some very specialised ones, and it baffles me why people don’t use more of them. Even the jobs themselves might provide a good story. For example, what happens if a butcher is suddenly out of work and goes on a mad rampage because he has a sick wife who now is likely to die because he cannot pay the healer? He has access to things that can kill easily, he is strong and he would definitely not be too squeamish – and he would be desperate. Or a sailor who suddenly finds himself on land and who stumbles across something he should not have seen, or perhaps who sees something on his journeys that causes him to be fired because nobody believes him? Usually these characters are minor characters whose only job is to tell what they have seen and then disappear. But frankly, I’m tired of reading stories from the perspective of the ruler or the assassin or the soldier/officer, unless they’re very well written.

So when I searched for a job for my character I wanted him to have a job that already existed, but not one that had been done to death already. There were so many different and fascinating jobs in the medieval times, including some very specialised ones, that it baffles me why people don’t use more of them. In general I’m a big fan of the “ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances” kind of plot. And frankly – if your job only consisted of trimming hedges (a hayward), would you not be tempted by a chance of adventure?

For the record, my character became a bottler. A bottler was in charge of the bottlery, responsible for “storing and dispensing wines and other expensive provisions”. (link)

But there are more! My favourite ones that I don’t see too often include:
Atilliators (maker of crossbows) or bowers/bowyers (maker of any kind of bow), fletcher (apparently the same)
Glazier (person who cuts and shapes glass)
Hayward (someone who tends the hedges)
Any other type of smith than blacksmith
Bakers (except as part of the setting)
Clothiers (maker of clothes for the nobility)
Keeper of the wardrobe
Rat Catchers
Catchpole (one who brings in captors)
Liner (responsible for tracing property boundaries in the city)
Cannoneers (somehow you don’t read about many cannoneers, do you?)
Boothman (seller of grains)
Collier (one who sells coal)
Colporteur (seller of religious books)
Lighterman (ferries goods from ship to shore in a small boat)
Mercer (dealer in expensive clothing)
Fewterer (one who keeps the hunting dogs)
Bearleader (a travelling tutor)

And there are countless more. At first glance these seem very boring, but I could think of at least a dozen different settings and circumstances where any of these could make a good story. Next time you feel tempted to write about a city soldier, why not write about a liner instead? Imagine the situations he could find himself in… (and the abuse he’d have to take)

Medieval Jobs
Medieval Jobs
Medieval Jobs
Medieval Occupations
What did people do in a Medieval City?