I want to focus on the first of the four perspectives I suggested you need to have in order to edit your own work: an understanding of your role as the creator, architect and god of your story. 
            Most of us implicitly understand the joy of this role. It’s often why we are drawn to write in the first place. It’s pretty heady stuff: you start with nothing – the spark of an idea – and you create a story or an argument, or a lesson that can go out into the world and resonate with other people—and not only in this lifetime, but long after your time on earth is over. I am often reminded of Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, waving his paintbrush around like a conductor in order to color the world and cause the seas to rise. A writer has so much awesome power!
            I often tell my students, “You are the god of your own story!” I say this to help them tune into their own voice and their own power, because you HAVE to have authority in order to write a book other people want to read. You have to OWN your words, and OWN your right to speak, and OWN the point you set out to make. A vast number of writers are afraid of their own power, and need to be convinced that they have the right to wield it.

You are the god of your own story.
 
             But there is a danger to being the god of your own story, too. Our friend Mickey got in some pretty big trouble because he gave in to the thrill of being a creator. He believed too much in his own power. A writer has to be mindful of his motivation and your purpose—which is why I am constantly on my soapbox about knowing what you are writing before you start to write, knowing your point, knowing your structure. It’s what my entire Book Startup system is all about – thinking before you start to write, using strategy to harness your creative power. Without that kind of consciousness, you run the risk of serving your ego instead of your work.
            What does a writer who serves his ego look like? A writer who loves the process of writing, who thrills to sit and create, who loves to talk about what they are doing, but who refuses to step back and assess, ever. They write whatever they want to write (they are the god of their story!), they get to “the end,” and they believe the world should roll out a red carpet for them, no questions asked. No matter how much effort and energy goes into the work, this almost always turns out badly. They try to get an agent and amass a pile of rejections. They self-publish and end up giving most of their books away. They often become those people who say that the whole publishing system is rigged and that you have to know the right people to get published these days.
            So the first step in learning to edit your own work is learning to set your ego aside. It’s as simple and as profound as that. Imagine that you have a hat that says, “I am the god of my own story.” You wear it while you write, and while you write you are a badass warrior poet who takes no prisoners. But then you take it off. You set it down. You step back and look at what you have created.

 The first step in learning to edit your own work is learning to set your ego aside. It’s as simple and as profound as that.


            WHEN do you take your god hat off? It totally depends.  I once knew a writer who did it at the end of every single page of prose she wrote, but she was a little crazy. In my one-on-one work with writers, I usually guide them to stop at the end of every chapter, unless they are really trying to get some momentum and crank out a book, in which case I suggest stopping at 50 pages.  At 50 pages, you get the benefit of knowing that you can write 100 pages, which means you can write 200, which means you can write a book, and that knowledge feels pretty great. Also, when you have 50 pages, you won’t mind throwing out 10 or 20 of them, so you are giving yourself a certain amount of freedom.
            No matter when you stop, print the work out. I know it uses trees and I hate that, but writers use a lot of paper. We just do.  Ask yourself the following questions:

1.   Are there places where I know things are illogical?
2.   Are there places where I know the writing is weak?
3.   Are there places where I know I was stingy?
4.   Are there places where I tried to get away with something because I knew the alternative was going to be too hard/scary/emotional to pull off? (Hint: you didn’t get away with it.)
5.   Are there places thatbore me when I read them over? (Hint: they will bore your reader, too.)
6.   Are there places that are so sweet that I can barely stand how clever I am? (Big red flag! These are the darlings you’re supposed to kill.)
 

            These are some fairly big and broad questions, but by asking them, you are training yourself to assess your own work. This is a skill you can absolutely master. Doctors often say that patients come into their appointment knowing precisely what’s wrong with them, even when what’s wrong is something obscure. The same is true with writers. I often have writers come to me saying that they fear their opening is weak, their middle sags, their ending doesn’t pay off – and they’re almost always right. Writers who are this self-aware are smart. They have assessed their work, found the weaknesses, and sought help in trying to fix it.
 

Doctors often say that patients come into their appointment knowing precisely what’s wrong with them, even when what’s wrong is something obscure. The same is true with writers


            These are some fairly big and broad questions, but by asking them, you are training yourself to assess your own work. This is a skill you can absolutely master. Doctors often say that patients come into their appointment knowing precisely what’s wrong with them, even when what’s wrong is something obscure. The same is true with writers. I often have writers come to me saying that they fear their opening is weak, their middle sags, their ending doesn’t pay off – and they’re almost always right. Writers who are this self-aware are smart. They have assessed their work, found the weaknesses, and sought help in trying to fix it.   
            So what if it’s just you, and you have answered yes to some of those questions.  You know there are place where things don’t make sense, where the writing is weak, where your bored even yourself. This means you have more revising to do. Don’t be afraid. Throwing out all 50 pages? Every writer has done it. Starting someplace completely new? Easy. Totally re-casting a tack you take in an argument (non fiction) or the way you develop a character (fiction)? Totally do-able. (They did it with Woody in Toy Story! That story is in Creativity Inc. Woody was at one point a sniveling, mean, jealous little cowboy. Sweet Woody who just wants to be loved!) Anything is do-able if you are writing in service of the story, not your ego.
            By all means, wear the god hat and indulge your awesome power as you write. Just make sure you take it off, set it aside, and look with a critical eye at what you have created.

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