(March 28, 2016)
Thoughts on the Editing Process
I’ve been in the process of updating my book, What is a Real Life? The reason for the updates is that I didn’t feel good about telling people about the book. In particular, I was concerned that a lot of the language I used in the book was not very clear. I figured that if I have the ability to change that- which I easily do, considering that my book is self-published and digital- I might as well.
Part of what has made this book difficult to edit is that almost a third of it is taken up by the most complex concept, which is subjective reality. Subjective reality, the idea that the reality we are living in is actually a dream, sounds very simple when stated that way. But explaining all the nuances of the experience of this perspective—that’s hard. It’s really beyond words, yet I took on the task of saying a bunch of words about it and putting them in a book.
The point of the book is not to “sell” the concept of subjective reality per se, or any other idea in the book, for that matter. The point, instead, is to share ideas that have profoundly impacted my life, and explain those ideas so that other people can decide whether they too will implement them, and if so, how.
When you go through the book, you might forget that that’s the point. It does start to look a bit like a philosophical tour de force. I won’t lie. It wracks the brain. But there are also many personal anecdotes and references to everyday aspects of life. The book is sort of the collision point between the esoteric and the mundane. Take these really weird-sounding ideas and apply them to everyday life, and you get fabulousness. And yes, that was quite an intelligent sentence.
What I really like about having a blog is that it’s pretty easy to develop. All I have to do is add to it. If I never delete anything, the quality of the blog won’t suffer for it. In fact, barring any really stupid outbursts, I’m probably better off allowing everything on the blog to live.
This isn’t quite the case with a book. Especially when you have a book that’s in a digital format, you can change it again, and again, and then again. And it’ll still need to be changed, because you’re always learning new things. You’re always having new experiences and seeing the world in different ways. Life is never too static. When you’ve written a book about life itself, you wish that didn’t have to be static, either.
I want to avoid the trap of getting obsessedly-lost with this book, trying my absolute darndest to make it perfect. The way I see it, everything that needs to be there is already there. I could add and add and add, but I really don’t need to. Beyond a point, adding to a book seems to just dilute it. Scaling dilutes quality.
On the other hand, there’s the perceived pressure to make things more and more and more concise, trying to say everything as simply and elegantly as possible. Maybe I should go back and change the organization of the book. Maybe I should force myself to delete 25% of the book and force myself to work with what remains. Or maybe I should delete the whole book and force myself to recreate the thing from scratch. I’m sure I could get it done with very few words that way.
Yet, there is a difference between completion and perfection. The book I did write and share with the world is better than the one I withheld, tried to make perfect, and never released.
As I said, everything that needs to be in the book is there. The presentation might just be a little convoluted is all.
Organization and clarity are my biggest problems when it comes to communication. This is the case not only with writing, but with public speaking and conversation as well. I might use 20 different tangents to say one thing. Or I might try to polish the message up a bit, so as to make it look nice for everybody, and I end up obscuring it in the process.
That being said, I took a single editing pass through the entire book, and it has MASSIVELY improved since I published it in September 2015. Anyone who reads both versions will find this one not only much easier to follow, but also much more enjoyable.
As I went through the book, I ran into quite a few sentences and passages that made me ask, Why is this here?, and, What the heck does that mean? Those have all been changed, deleted, or set aside for me to think over. It’s pretty funny to read your own book and wonder what the heck the author was trying to say.
Part of what happened is that I was very anxious to release the book. I couldn’t stomach holding on to it anymore. 90% of the work on this book happened in a 2.5 month period. That doesn’t sound very long, I know. But it was a very immersive 2 months. I don’t think I’ve ever given anything such intense devotion in my life, except maybe for running ultramarathons. I felt like someone set me on fire, and then I started running. Out of that fire-fueled running came this book. Hallelujah!
An interesting piece of editing this book has been considering what to do with things I don’t 100% agree with. I put the book out 6 months ago. I don’t view the world the same way I did then. In that time I’ve absorbed quite a lot of information, I’ve had new thoughts and experiences, and I’ve worked with different ideas. I could write a very different book now than I did in mid-2015 (at least, so I think).
My take is that I can go right ahead and do that. But that very different book doesn’t have to be a drastic overhaul of What is a Real Life? Give the book a makeover, but it doesn’t need plastic surgery. Who makes their books out of plastic, anyway?
What has been important for me to do through the editing process is suspend my discomfort. Put a hold on that impulse to delete everything immediately upon seeing it. Maybe it’s fine. Maybe the deeper truth is in there. Just keep reading, and perhaps you’ll see everything come together.
Overall, the emphasis, at this point, is on improving the clarity of the book. As long as each sentence stays on-point, it works.
The Edits Made
As one could expect from the Pareto Principle (80/20 Rule), most of the improvements have come from just a handful of changes. There are two that come to mind, in particular.
The first change was made toward the beginning. The hardest editing work was on the Introduction, because this section sets the stage for the rest of the book. If the Introduction is a flop, then the whole book is.
The important changes I made to the Introduction were how I defined awareness and conscious growth. Similarly, I also defined what life is and what it is to be real. If I did this at all in the original version of the book, I did so only in passing.
Altogether, the core of the change lies in this paragraph:
“There is no right or wrong way to experience real, but what it requires is awareness. That is to say, a real experience of life requires that you are aware of the fact of your aliveness. In other words, you must be aware that you are aware.”
Though brief, I feel this does a very good job of setting the stage for the book. I could just copy and paste that passage everywhere. Ooh, baby.
The other major change I made was that I distinguished between consciousness and awareness. The piece of the book that I struggled with most, when I thought about it, was the section on Levels of Consciousness. The very thought of sharing that idea with people has made me shudder, at times. I’ve worried about it giving the impression that life is about climbing some ladder to a place of stupefied Enlightenment. That was not the impression I wanted to give.
Writing the article The Layers of Reality, since publishing the book, really helped me to see this concept differently. In the article I explain that we all are very highly conscious, but where we differ is in how aware we are. We all have within us all of the levels of consciousness, but, based on the extent of our awareness, we do not all have equal access to those levels. We all can have that access. The potential is there. It’s simply a matter of cultivating awareness, which is within the realm of choice.
Similarly, writing Neither Here Nor There (The Ultimate Space of Existence) helped with re-imagining this concept as well. Not only is no level of consciousness better than another—you shouldn’t necessarily even want to reach the highest level and be there all the time. Each level of consciousness simply provides a context in which to know and experience yourself differently. Each level is a different piece of the kingdom that is life. If you want to hang out in Shame (the lowest level) for a while, that is your experience to have. There is no shame in it (of course, I won’t be able to convince you of the fact).
When viewed with these considerations in mind, the Levels of Consciousness becomes a helpful tool for navigating reality. It’s not some game to become the best at. Rather, it’s a road map that’s helpful to seeing where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’d like to go. Like Polarity and Subjective Reality, it’s another way of telling the story that is life.
I changed the description of the Levels of Consciousness in the Introduction to say that, “For the purposes of this book, this concept is simply a measure of how much you have mastered either love or fear (i.e. Polarity).” While that’s basically true, to say that that’s all the Levels of Consciousness are good for is to water down the concept a little too much. So I’ll have to go in and change that.
Other than this, the book has really just asked for some polishing up. I didn’t make many changes at all to the chapter on Polarity, and the chapters on Subjective Reality just needed some cleaning. I feel I’ve breezed through the first 80% of the editing work, and now it’s time to drill down on the last 20% turns good into masterpiece.
These are the pages linked to in the article: