Thoughts on Editing Your Work

There’s a saying that goes, “Those that can’t write, edit.” Of course it’s not true and probably originated from someone who paid a ridiculous amount of money to a self-proclaimed editor and was not happy with the results. However, editing is necessary, certainly more necessary than editors.

An editor gets paid to take out the trash. Ideally, an editor will read your work fully, then go back to the beginning and remove those bits and pieces that are not necessary to move the story along. He will extract the repetition and redundancy that clutters the copy and make it flow more freely to help hold the reader’s attention.

Unfortunately, some editors try to throw your stuff away on the fly. They will start collecting and tossing what they believe is trash in the first reading. Without a knowledgeable sense of the entire work, sometimes gems get tossed in the garbage. In referring to some of his writing, Abraham Lincoln was once quoted as complaining that his writing of a certain missive was too long because he did not have time to be brief.

Editing should start when the writing does. For years I was inflicted with the burden of writing copy for radio and television commercials. Many that do are considered hacks. Some, however, accept the challenge of writing concisely, creatively, and eventually learn the concept of brevity. Jamming characters, a plot, a beginning, a middle, and an end in thirty or sixty seconds is a skill that can be learned. Unfortunately, most writers never get that type of education.

Write your novel. When it’s finished, put it away for a few weeks, or a few months if you can stand it. Because you have labored over the work, you will probably be a better writer at the end of the book than you were at the beginning. Go back to your novel and let that “better writer” start trimming the fat. If you have 100,000 words and you throw away 10,000 of them, you haven’t lost a thing. Just the opposite. You’ve gained a better book, and you’ve sharpened a valuable skill.

When you’ve finished editing, put it up, wait a while, and do it again. Maybe another 5,000 words will go. Maybe not. But something will . . . and that something will make your work better. It will be slicker, it will be tighter, and you will have progressed in your craft. Repeat this process again and again if you like, but understand that a book is never finished. It is only abandoned.

Am I saying you shouldn’t use an editor? Nope. Just don’t let an editor use you.

At least, that’s how it seems to me.



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