Writers’ Secrets 6: You can write but you can’t edit, edit, edit…

(Thanks to Regina Spektor for that great lyric from her song Edit.)

Finishing the first draft is only the beginning. It’s also one of the more generally enjoyed aspects because many writers find it easier than what comes next: editing.

Editing isn’t fun for most writers. I have heard of some strange creatures who enjoy it but I’m not sure I believe the myths.

So what happens when you edit?

Basically, you take what you’ve written and tear it apart. You look at every scene and think: do I need this? Does this add to the story?  You look at every piece of dialogue and think: is this realistic? Do I need this? Does it add to the story? You look at every scrap of description and think: is this visual enough? Does it capture what I’m trying to? What about other senses? Do I need it? etc.

The result is not only a rather gruelling process but a lot of cutting of material. It doesn’t matter if you love a particular phrase, paragraph or scene if the answer to the recurring question of: do I need this? Does it add to the story? (which is really the same question twice) is no, it’s gone. You’ve got to be ruthless.

Sometimes, you’ll find that what you’ve got, as a whole, doesn’t work in its current form. In other words: editing isn’t enough – you need to rewrite it. From the beginning.

This is something that’s happening more and more to me. Perhaps its because I’m going through a horrible phase in which nothing is coming out ‘right’ the first time and perhaps its just that I’m getting better at recognising the need to rewrite. I don’t know but I don’t like it.

Find out why next week.


One thought on “Writers’ Secrets 6: You can write but you can’t edit, edit, edit…

  1. Good points. I’m sure that what you describe is shared by most writers. I usually find the first draft of most things that I compose to be junk. The thoughts and concepts are there, but effectively translating them to paper is the challenge.

    It is not until I am able to step away and view my writing through an objective eye that it starts to take shape; this might be after countless variations, edits, and in some cases, complete re-writes of the material.

    I am a big proponent of eliminating needless words; being succinct and getting to the point, and I always reserve any final editing (prior to publication) to a professional editor. No matter how many times one goes over their own material, something is bound to be overlooked simply because we are too close to our own work to see everything objectively.

    Thanks for the post…definitely food for thought!


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