Ask any writer and they’ll tell you that a large percentage of what we do is actually editing. The exact ratio varies from writer to writer, but it’s always more than 50%, usually more than 75%. Editing is something that needs to happen in order for us to do our best work.
Think of a first draft as a kind of experiment. You come up with an idea and write it all out as fast as possible, sometimes going so far as to ignore basic things like spelling errors or blatantly bad grammar (I’m not one of those writers, I tend to be kind of compulsive about squishing the red squiggly lines, but perhaps you are.) Then you sit back and look at the actual text you have an compare it to the idea that inspired it. How’d that turn out for you?
If you’re anything like me, not too great. Unfortunately, that’s the way of the world. Somewhere between the primordial idea soup of your imagination and the harsh reality of solid state digital memory a lot of the vividness and life in your ideas has a tendency to bleed out.
Now sometimes you have very helpful aids to keep your writing on course. Some authors assemble photographs of celebrities who bear a resemblance to their characters, or keep actual objects they intend to write into their stories sitting on shelves in their rooms. Visiting locations and taking pictures of buildings or rooms is another big help.
But at some point writing is about your ability to put word to page and make others see what you thought. It doesn’t have to be a perfect copy, because you’re never going to get that. But a close approximation is always nice.
So you edit. Go over your writing carefully. If possible, get another set of eyes to look at it. Do everything you can to make sure the words you write and the ideas in mind match.
Editing is hard work, and sometimes it can seem to create as many problems as it solves. Finding the right pacing, the right words, the right sentence structure and the right flow of story can be daunting at times. Often, after looking over a first draft there can be an overwhelming compulsion to take the whole manuscript and throw it in the trashcan (or at least the digital recycling bin.)
Sometimes that’s exactly what you have to do. But often times, if you take the time, you’ll find that what you wind up with was worth the effort.
I hope that you’ll find the story I’ve been writing and editing at least makes a decent effort at finding the kind of writing that engages you. If you’re wondering exactly what kind of story it will be, well, be sure to come back next week! I’ll be writing about what inspired the story. Then, a week from next Monday, we’ll kick things off.