See, here’s the thing – editing seems to get a bad rap in the writing world. It’s billed as this huge chore that happens at the end of all the joyous writing. It’s the thing that stops you from being able to share your masterpiece with the world or submit it anywhere. Some writers hate it, but I’m going to hold my hand up and say I enjoy editing. And here’s why.
I actually don’t enjoy writing. Wait, what? It’s true. I would rather be able to say ‘I have written’ than ‘I am writing’. Writing is hard. Anyone who’s tried it will know that. Some people love the writing bit, or so I’ve heard – crazy weirdos.
I write because I have to. I have these stories, whirling around in my head and I need to enter a semi-meditative state in order to be able to grasp the tale I’m trying to tell. And most of the time that eludes me, so I struggle on, until I collapse, exhausted over my finished manuscript.
‘The End’ are the sweetest two words in the English language. I haven’t been in a position to write them very often, but oh, when I do. What unbridled joy. That’s when I get to save and close my document and leave it to mature for a couple of months.
Then the real fun begins.
Here are three steps to enjoy editing?
- Your Red Pencil is Your Sword: Two or more months after having written, open
your document, print it off and buy a red pencil. It’s time to see what you’ve written with the eyes of a reader. Armed with perspective and your pencil, read through it as fast as you can – preferably in one sitting. This step is about getting an overview. Make notes in the margin and use that red pencil to slash through bits that just don’t need to be there. But don’t stop to fix them, just read on. It’s time to be ruthless.
- Now You are the Executioner: If you’ve found a character doesn’t work, cut them or combine them with another character. If that beautiful passage you wrote just slows down the narrative, it’s still got to go. Remember, you can always use those ideas and characters in another story by saving them in a separate file. They’re not dead and buried, they’re just put on the reserve team. Cutting out the slack from your novel is cathartic. It’s like losing weight and feeling a spring in your step and being able to run upstairs without wheezing. Enjoy it, knowing that you’re making your W.I.P. better.
- Recognise Editing as Sculpture not Demolition: Often writers see editing as the loss of precious words they’ve slogged over for a year or more. They become attached to a scene or sentence and editing feels like vandalism. Wrongo. Editing is what you do to make your writing good because trust me, draft one isn’t good and neither is draft two. Currently, your work is just a lump of clay with little form or artistry. Editing is when you cut away the excess to reveal the beautiful story inside. If you believe in your story, then you have to edit to ensure it’s the best version you can create. Don’t submit a story before it’s been given the teen movie makeover, turning that geek girl into the prom queen honey we could always see she really was.
I once cut 40,000 words from my 70,000 word first draft. My writing group was horrified, but I was elated because I knew it was the right thing for my novel. Editing isn’t a necessary evil, it’s the icing on the cake and the gateway to submission and publishing.