Editing is hard. It’s frustrating. Editing involves taking a supposedly good piece of prose and then cutting out the stuff that is not needed. Writers go through and read what they wrote. They
stress over analyze every single word, wondering if they should keep it or toss it. Whatever they decide, it is agony, like cutting open one’s own heart. Each word is precious to the writer. Each word appears proffered by the Writing God. Each word can not be thrown out lightly.
And yet, some words must in order for the story to flourish, to thrive and even to survive. Without doing so, the story stagnates and dies. But when the writer can somehow manage to cut out a couple of words to supposedly make the story that much better, it becomes magic. When a story turns from a tangled mess into a coherent whole, it is something that should be marveled at.
As someone who has just started to edit my own Nanowrimo novel from last month, I’ve learned a few things about editing and about my own writing…
- Editing can improve your writing
However tedious it is to comb through your own words, you will soon realize that it is well worth the hassle. Nobody can write a polished final draft the first time around. Yes, I firmly believe that everyone has a novel, a book, inside of them. But that book is not going to be perfect. It is going to have typos, misspelled words, grammatical errors, lapses in sentence structure, plot bunnies. Your plot will occasionally try to grab you and run away from you. Your plot will squirm and divide, becoming another thing entirely.
But at the end of the day, your first draft will become a second draft that will be that much better. And then, your second draft can become an even better third draft until, finally, it becomes the published masterpiece that you knew in your heart that you were always capable of creating. So, don’t give up. Because this process is part of the learning curve and your writing will improve.
2. Read out loud
I don’t care if you are in a room full of people. I don’t care if they start to stare. Say the words out loud. Trust me. The words will sound different out loud than inside your head, reverberating, echoing. Out loud, the words sound that much more richer, purer, finer. So, don’t be ashamed. Read out loud, slowly, letting your mouth form each word delicately, almost as if you are eating a delicious piece of dark chocolate that you wish to savor for all of eternity. Because, technically, you do want to keep your words as long as possible, and it is only when they are gone that you realize how much they were needed, or how much better off you are without them.
3. Cut, cut, cut!
But eventually a few, some, most of your words have to be cut. That’s just part of the editing process. There’s nothing you can do about it. Just be quiet and cut out those toxic words. Cut out the one too many ‘said.’ Cut out the character who just won’t stop talking and is not moving the plot forward. Because that is the ultimate goal, ladies and gents. You’ve got to move the plot forward. You’ve got to have a character and then have them fight for what they want. Give them motivation. Give them wants and needs. Make them annoying. Make them ridiculously fun and weird but at the same time oh so relatable to the human condition. Make them real. Your characters are your best friends, your enemies, the neighbor across the street. They are people. Make them people. Cut out those words until your characters become fully fledged. Keep cutting until that happens.
4. …And then, write!
After you cut all the useless and redundant words out, then start writing. Write an entirely new description about your main character. Write a new piece of dialogue between your character and… someone else. Let your imagination flow. Let your words flow. Pretend that this is your first draft all over again. Write as if you haven’t just cut a million or so words from your story. Words will always exist but in different combinations, waiting to be ceased upon by you, the writer. Grab the words while you can. Trust that the story will form and soon you will have that perfect product that will be on your reader’s Kindle, Nook or in your local bookstore.
But until then, read, cut, read some more, write, read, cut and don’t stop until you have a piece that you are proud of, like your first born child.