I used to despise editing. In my mind I separated it from writing. Putting something down on paper for the first time is fun. The thrill of not even knowing yourself what will happen next! The feeling of inspiration.
I edited anyways, but in hind sight I see that — in the beginning — I often did bare minimum. I didn’t want to really do the work. I wanted to get started on something new and unknown. But as I began to hone in on my craft I discovered something wonderful. A realization that editing is a beautiful opportunity. It’s not something to rush through. It’s not something to dread. It’s this unique time to look at your characters, setting, plot, theme, and voice all with new eyes. A time to make the written art better. It is work, but it is a joyful aspect of the writing process.
I can’t tell you when I switched to enjoying the editing aspect. I was sitting at my laptop, my rockstar to one side with two copies of my manuscript — full of edits — on the other, whittling away at the words. Then a particular edit got my attention and in that moment I realized I had passed the stages of editing dread. That I relished it, felt grateful for it, and that it too can give me that thrilling feeling. What a gift it is to refine the work and in so doing create a new experience for myself and the reader, one that is more compelling and enriching.
During the last few weeks two editing tips came up multiple times as I worked. Each time I felt gratitude for the lesson of them and that I was FINALLY catching on after years of practice.
One: Don’t be afraid to delete things. Your writing won’t get better if you are too afraid to delete lines/paragraphs/pages of your work and, in truth, you have something better inside you…it just takes practice. (There’s another lesson here too – knowing when to leave things alone, but that’s for another day!) I used to feel the need to save the parts I was deleting in a different file, but I have since learned it’s okay to let the words go. I’ve deleted a lot of good lines and replaced them with ones that fit better for a character or a scene. They may not be written as pretty but I’m glad they are there instead, and I’m glad I didn’t save all the things I have deleted. I don’t need those clogging up my writing files 😉
Two: Take editing advice in stride. I LOVE seeing what is coming across and what isn’t from a reader. That being said, they may mention doing something drastic when it can be fixed more subtly (or vice versa!). This lesson I learned from Orson Scott Card. I took a two day workshop from him and this was huge. He gave the example of Ender’s Game. The editor said that the novel was too long and that Card needed to cut the book in half. Instead, Card looked at it and merely took out one of the battle room scenes. The editor had thought it needed to be cut significantly, what Card realized was that it had too many of that particular kind of scene. This made the story feel long. Card gave it back to the editor and he loved it. Card didn’t even mention that the editor was “wrong” because in reality the editor told him exactly what was needed by showing the symptom of the problem. This lesson was huge for me because I grew up having a difficult time trusting myself. I assumed that everyone else knew best. I’ve grown though, and this time around it was a pleasant discovery to notice that I could read comments and not automatically do as they said. Instead I worked through them. Sometimes I did exactly as the edits said and other times I was able to see where the real problems were because of the direction my beta readers gave, then fixed those.
Doing both of these things really helped increase my ability to use editing to my advantage.
I have now finished the third round of edits on a science fiction novel. It’s so much better now than it was when I started. I have beta readers to thank for that. I sent it off to four more readers and no doubt I will have much to improve upon its return, and I’m good with that.