A writer's life is cyclical in nature. We have the shiny new idea phase, followed by the first draft, followed by self-edits (multiple rounds), then it is sent away for someone else to look at and give feedback on, and then it's back into the editing cave (these last two steps can happen multiple times), it goes to a proofreader, then (hopefully) one more go round and we have a product we can take pride in. By the way, I don't mention research, but that is part of every stage, from shiny new idea to proofreading.
While the percentages are somewhat subjective, the chart pretty much defines the writing process, NOT including all of the other activities outside of writing the actual book. The bulk of the time is spent editing, revising, tweaking, and polishing. So, writers spend a lot of time in the editing cave.
“The only kind of writing is rewriting.”
I often get fascinated by small details that have little relevance to the task at hand … as in this case when my mind wandered off on the tangent of why writers say they are going into a cave for both writing and editing. So, I looked up the meaning behind spelunking. The official meaning/definition is: the exploration of caves, especially as a hobby. But that didn't shed any light on how it is used by writers.
On my travels through the land of internet search, I found spelunking is used for the amateur cave explorer while caving is used for professional forays such as exploring from a conservation or biological standpoint and the scientific study is Speleology. A side note of interest is that spelunking is known as potholing in the UK. But that doesn't help to determine why the writing process involves the term cave for both writing and editing.
I understand the feeling … when I start a project or am in the middle of working on one, I feel as if I'm "holing up" — cutting myself off from the outside world and diving into the world of my characters. Is that enough of a meaning? Maybe … but then I ran across this little nugget from an article titled "Caving – Why Do We Do It?":
Curiosity may be the common thread running through the many reasons for caving, but it is not a reason in itself to venture underground. For many, the sheer adventure and excitement of seeking out obstacles and the satisfaction of overcoming them are motivation enough.
For me, that truly nails the cave aspect. As writers, we journey into a dark place, one that may only have a glimmer or two of light as we start our exploration. We know we're going to meet and have to overcome obstacles to reach journey's end. The prospect is exciting and somewhat terrifying at the same time because we venture into the unknown with only the spark of an idea as our guiding light.
As one humorist put it in the Urban Dictionary, "Origin: "spelunk" is the sound a clumsy caver makes when he slips and falls in a cave and lands in water." Our characters lead us astray and into dead ends, we face pitfalls, and yes, we slip and fall … often landing in either water or mud. Yet the adventure of uncovering the story drives us on.
At present I'm in the more editing, more revising, tweaking, and polishing stages of the process with Rain Falling on Embers (Mar 21, 2023/Vesuvian Books). I have received edits back from my editor supreme, Christopher Brooks, and am entering the cave. Wish me luck and send plenty of coffee and good thoughts.