Finishing the first draft of a piece of writing is a great feeling. Although you should be very proud at this stage, you are far from finished yet.
As a writer, editing your work is imperative. It is not enough just to read back over it for spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. Proper editing requires you to look at your writing with a critical eye; you need to be completely honest with yourself about how successful your piece is in its current state. In fact, you need to be utterly brutal.
The following are some tips for editing your work as thoroughly as it needs.
- Let go of any romantic notion about ‘capturing the moment.’ You look at a particular scene in your story and see flaws and imperfections, but you don’t want to change anything because you feel as though you perfectly captured the mood at the time of writing. You may well have done, but if you want a story that is polished, professional and stands out, you will need to iron out those flaws. Nobody’s writing is perfect and that’s not what you should be aiming for – you’ll drive yourself crazy. But if you see something that strikes you as needing improvement, then it probably really does need it.
- Don’t be afraid to ‘kill your darlings.’ You have a sentence, a paragraph, or a minor character that you really like; but do you need them? Really? What are they adding to the story? Do they really fit, or are they actually spoiling the quality? If you can’t answer positively to any of these questions, then that part of your story is going to have to go. If you take out that sentence or scene, don’t throw it away completely; you might find you can use it again in another piece of work in the future.
- Get a proof-reader. It is virtually impossible to edit your work without feedback from an objective party. Ask a writer friend, or even find a ‘writing buddy’ to swap work with. Writers are almost always willing to help each other out, and as long as your proof-reader is not afraid to be honest and has a good critical eye then you will find the editing process much easier. You don’t have to follow every suggestion; if you’ve been advised to change something, but strongly feel this is a bad idea, then don’t do it! Different people will notice and like or dislike different things. Do listen to and think about all the feedback you receive, but sometimes you will need to trust your own opinion too.
- Don’t be precious about your work. If you’re the kind of person who has trouble not taking constructive criticism personally, this is something you need to work on if you really want to be a writer. If you ask somebody to be brutally honest about your work, they will be. You don’t only need to be prepared for this; you need to welcome it. Certain things can be disheartening to hear at times, but good or bad, everything will help you along the way.
- Don’t be afraid to be drastic. If you think an entire chapter needs to be reworked or a fairly important character is serving no purpose and needs to be cut, then do it. Don’t be wary of your own work. Experiment and make those changes. You might find your entire piece is twenty times better for it.
- There is a possibility you will never be happy with your work. Creativity and perfectionism often go hand in hand. It can be difficult to manage, but rather than achieving your notion of perfection, it is sometimes best just to step back and accept that your work is the absolute best it can be. It’s a cliché, but it’s true; we are our own worst critics.
- You will know when you are done editing. Once you’re debating whether or not that comma really belongs in the middle of that sentence in line 9 of page 34 you’ll realise that there’s probably little else you can do. You created this piece of work and you know it inside out. You will instinctively know when it is there.
The importance of editing is never to be underestimated. It might not be an easy process, but it’s a very satisfying one; you’ll be amazed at the difference a bit of thorough and honest polishing can make.