A long, long time ago, in this galaxy right here, I thought editing was for saps.
Throughout my life, I’ve been a decent story teller. When I was younger, I’d come up with extravagant (highly questionable) lies that I could tell for days and days, adding to the story with each telling. This has made it fairly easy for me to carry on conversations, write essays, and most importantly for my education years, write any kind of paper that was required of me.
I have an accessible tone and I’ve always known that certain words and the way they’re used can set the scene i.e. the difference between ghost stories and a story about bunnies and sunshine.
The myriad of A’s achieved on all writing assignments (done in the last minute because I am an extreme procrastinator) convinced me that I could not improve upon any of my first drafts and that first drafts were completely acceptable as final drafts.
I was wrong.
In this second life of writing that I have found myself in, I am learning that there is nothing more important than learning to edit. I say ‘learning,’ because believe you me, I’m still in the fledgling stages.
As a reader, I had always seen final drafts and from the feedback I was getting on my papers and school assignments, I figured that I was at the same level and rarely even read back my work. I assumed that all authors were able to produce completely clean and sharp prose from the get go without any work.
Now, I know better. I have read back a few of my previous assignments and, let me tell you, they certainly needed editing.
Editing is essential towards improving and polishing all writing. Even Ernest Hemingway knew that what he wrote in his inebriated state needed a sober hand to go over it again (and most likely again, and again, and again).
Learning to edit has been quite a process. It’s like the five stages of grief, sort of, in that I started with:
Denial. I thought, and more than that, believed that I didn’t need to edit.
Anger. When pointed out that I did need it — that everyone needs to edit, I got upset with my (now constant) editor and threatened horrible things.
Bargaining. The threats became less horrible and I began to see that a lot of my writing wasn’t the best, but I would try to keep phrases or paragraphs that I was particularly attached to (those sometimes need to be cut the most, guys).
Depression. I swore I would never write again. Many times.
Acceptance. Here I am, accepting that this is something that everyone needs to do. My glory mentor amazingness is so because she not only writes amazingly, but she is an efficient and uncompromising editor.
So here are some beginner things: when you are in your denial stage, you can look for:
Repetition. In the beginning, a lot of people don’t necessarily know what to say or how they’ll say things. This leads to a common mistake of reitoration and repetition where none is needed. When there are a lot of the same words close together, readers get pulled out of the story so be careful about re-using words.
Sentence structure. I had a lot of sentences that sounded the same and had the same structure, in the beginning, so Cheri showed me this quote by Gary Provost:
“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. I has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals — sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”
Lack of imagery. Writing is not like speaking, you have to show and tell. Don’t say she was angry, show the reader that she sniffed and turned up her nose when asked what her weight was.
Too much unnecessary information in descriptions. And the opposite side of the coin is too much unnecessary imagery. Readers are smart and can infer things. You don’t have to say that the shelf was exactly six feet and three inches off the ground and was hammered in with two nails and held three books and was exactly three feet long and made out of cedar wood; it is fine to just say, there was a book shelf.
Was this just me? Did anyone else believe that they were the shit and that they were perfect the first time around? Let me know in the comments below!