E is for Edit

Exceptionally brave authors don’t look upon the completion of the first draft with the mixture of mingled pride and stomach dropping dread as the rest of us. For with the closing of the teetering, holey, rough-shod draft comes what most writers I know fear the most: Revision & Self-Editing. It’s the fear that comes with knowing that the thing you’ve spent weeks or months or years slaving over, destroyed relationships for, permanently messing up your spine and posture because of, now has to be picked apart with a fine toothed comb. It has to be self-graded and spat upon. It has to be tsked at and told it’s not good enough. It has to give up all of its disappointing flaws and you have to acknowledge that they exist.

Can’t we just take a teenie moment to reflect on the joy that comes from completing a creative endeavor? No, absolutely not, because this is not a complete project (at least, not if you don’t want to be told, “Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us.”) This is a half formed, stumbling monstrosity that you can’t let see the light of day. No, no, not how it is. Goodness gracious did Anne Bradstreet ever have it right when she wrote about ill-formed offspring dressed in rags.

Fortunately, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers isn’t the nightmare it seems to be when the ‘D’ in THE END is still drying on the page. The internet gives all writers a peek into The Copyeditor’s Handbook so that everyone, seasoned grammarian and struggling high schooler alike, has access to the same wealth of knowledge.

So hold your heads high, my fellow writers, and hold your drafts a little lower so that no one else can see them quite yet. Walk boldly into the future knowing that despite there being numerous peaks left to climb, the editing mountain has a neat little foot path for you to follow. Stick with it and you’ll have no trouble.

Unless you’re Editing Canadian English, in which case you’re pretty much screwed.


29 thoughts on “E is for Edit

  1. So you don’t recommend taking a break after you finish a draft before you begin editing? I know a lot of writers like to take a moment to revel in the fact that they finished a draft (because yes, I think you can take pride in that moment; it’s a big deal!), and take maybe a month or so off before editing. But you like to edit right away? Isn’t it difficult to be objective enough?

    • The post was tongue-in-cheek. I tend to take several weeks off between the completion of the first draft and revisions, sometimes longer. I take breaks in between revisions, even. I don’t let myself feel accomplished after the first draft though. Not completely anyway. If I let myself feel accomplished, then I get lazy. I’d rather feel like I’m procrastinating the editing than let pride in the completion of a first draft make me feel as though editing can be breezed through. I know me. If I give myself an inch, I’ll take a mile. 😛

      • Ah, sorry I misunderstood! I guess with respect to allowing yourself to feel accomplished, it depends on the kind of writer/person you are. Some of us need continual reinforcement, and some of us need to push ourselves to make sure it gets done! (I also tend to be in the latter camp.)

  2. No worries. The internet is horrible for accurately communicating things. 😀 I need to flog myself, personally, to keep motivated to see a project through to completion. I write all sorts of angry little notes to myself when editing.

  3. Hi there – I’m not a writer (other than a writer on my blog). I would like to think that when you take some time off after writing, that when you go back and ‘edit’ it, you can look at it through fresh eyes. BTW, I gave a shout out to your blog on my ‘E’ post on FictionZeal.com. 🙂

  4. Nail on the head, Alex! I consider the end of the first draft as only the beginning – a tough rewrite, beta readers, another rewrite, an editor, another rewrite, a line editor, another rewrite, and then a final read out loud to catch anything else and to hear the flow! I always look at the final, final copy with a mixture of exhaustion and anxiety.

    • Oh God, I’m the same way. I edited, tinkered, adjusted, fixed, meddle with and in general rearranged my last story dozens of time before I threw up my hands and sent it out without looking. I’m still waiting to hear back.

    • I like editing, generally speaking. I like looking at my work and saying, “Well here is an ugly steaming pile. Let’s make something out of this.” Proof reading my own work is tiresome, I agree, but I don’t mind proof reading other people’s work. The difficulty comes from my lack of knowledge concerning the minute details of English grammar. 😛

  5. Interesting how we emote over reaching different points in the ‘journey’ to a finished book. I love writing that D. I feel an unconfined joy. For at least 90 seconds. Then it goes in the metaphorical bottom drawer not to be looked at for three months (ideally – sometimes impatience gets the better of me). My biggest problem is not starting editing but stopping editing. I realised a while ago I had reached a stupid point where I was rewriting not editing – saying pretty much exactly the same things but in different words. No better (except, of course, I thought the current words were better – they weren’t). I became obsessed with stopping and the only way was to get to that point was to self publish. It worked. One down, the next one wending its way there for the summer.

    • I do the stop and start editing too. Mostly because I have a busy schedule and can’t devote more than a couple bleary hours to writing a day, and then in between other projects find my desk and the editing gets pushed further and further into that drawer. This week I just threw up my hands and sat down and forced myself to finish two stories, complete polish. How to send them out and fret some more. 😛

  6. I do everything I can to make the post-writing editing go as quickly as possible. That means I do most of my editing as I go. So far, it has worked pretty well.

    • I tried the editing-as-you-go thing and I never got anything finished I’ve had a lot more success with barf-out-words-and-edit-later. But writing is a personal endeavor; everyone does it differently.

      • This is true, and I can’t do the word spew. It just doesn’t work for me.
        I do tell my students to do what works for them. Most people can’t actually edit as they go.

  7. Nice post. I have found some coming ground after spending a couple of years fiercely detesting the editing process. I can’t say I enjoy it now, but we’ve agreed to be friends. I have Self Editing for Fiction Writers which I find to be a really useful tool when trying to remember all the things I need to be looking out for in my manuscript. Next on my shopping list is The Copyeditor’s Handbook.


    • I casually read these books when I have the time or inclination. I haven’t used them much for detailed reference yet, but I also haven’t finished anything longer than a short story in a while, and my beta readers are really good at catching my flubs.

    • I actually don’t mind it that much. Given the choice between editing something I’ve already finished, and staring at the blank page of doom, trying to START a story, I’ll take the editing.

  8. I hit the revision point too early and start having ideas about changing and editing things… generally sometime mid-working. This has held me back from finishing any longform work yet. Reading posts like this always remind me that this is a one-two process, but that doesn’t always make it easy.

    The other holdups include wanting to be more prepared (always more you can read or do to be prepared, right?) and deciding which project to start on first…

    • No, no I can’t. I never know how to spell words. I’ve always been crap at spelling and when you throw two different systems at me, my brain gets completely overloaded. 😛

  9. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers helped me SO much. I actually hate writing first drafts and love revising and editing. The stories are there, but getting them out is the hard part for me. Writing out of sequence helps. I usually save a scene I want to write for last, to motivate me through the transitions, and then everything gets assembled and smoothed over in the editing process. That’s the fun part–watching the fragments come together. 🙂

    • I’m with you. Cranking out the story can be difficult for me. It’s the piecing together the really interesting stuff with the stuff that needs to be there to move the story along. That’s the slog for me. But in the revising, I get to edit that stuff all down into something nice and interesting.

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