Learning to Love the Edit

Full disclosure: I’ve always been a bit of an arrogant shit. The problem is that when I was younger, I was smarter than all the other kids I knew. I’m not being a dick about it – it was simple fact. I was generally good at most things I turned my hand to, but especially anything to do with literature and writing. I’d get entered into harder exams, my teachers encouraged me to do extra reading and assignments, and on the whole, I’d come out swinging.

Of course, when I got to university, that all went by the wayside – no longer the big fish in the small pond, and all that. But that sense of having things come easily to me never really went away. I’d write something and my peers would tell me it was perfect. My tutors would have other ideas, but, on the whole, I was good. (Later on, I would realise that it was true, I was good, but I was never brilliant.) When I didn’t get the top grade, I wept like a spoilt brat. But then again, I had been spoiled. I’d been praised and built up for years, before having it all tumble down around me in a mess of tissues and snot.

I’m a bit more realistic these days. I know that I have to work at things in order to get them to be at the quality I’ve come to expect. However, there’s still one thing holding me back – I hate editing my own work. It’s been ingrained into me for years – I’m the kind of person that gets it right first time, why do I need to go and edit it? I tweak things as I go along, don’t I? Why should I sit down and read through everything when I’ve been reading it for days/weeks/months anyway?

There’s a simple answer to all those questions. You don’t get it right first time so sit down and work at it, you might tweak things as you go but it doesn’t mean it’s finished, and you’re not reading it in the same way when you edit it. So just do it.

Learning to love the edit is pants. It really is. But I also need to realise that my editing is different to someone else’s. I didn’t even realise that anyone had a lighter editing process until the second term of my MA, when David, my non-fiction tutor, revealed that he didn’t really edit much either. It’s pretty much there on the first draft and he just makes a few tweaks. I’m not a (widely) published and talented writer like David Vann and I know that I need to put more effort into my edits. It’s reassuring to know that not everyone needs to pull their work apart and stitch it back together, though. Like everything, it takes balance, and that’s what I’m now striving for.

I thought that I might get a bit better at it by editing someone else’s work, rather than my own, and my D&D compatriot James has kindly offered up a few of his latest blog posts over on Mining the Mindscape, covering our latest escapades (although I’m not sure how many of my edits have made it up there). So far, it’s been a much less painful process than sorting out my own raw drafts and, dare I say it, quite fun. I’m not at the ‘love’ stage yet, but I’m a lot closer to ‘like’ than I was before. It helps that I keep giggling at various bits of dialogue.

With regards to my own writing, I’m working on a few flash pieces – less than 500 words – for fun. Having such a low word count means that each sentence has to mean something, and no word can be out of place. It’s been a good challenge, although I’m still not quite ready to share, and I’m slowly regaining a sense of the joy of writing, rather than it feeling like a chore. I suppose that’s a good place to be in, for now. And eventually, the novel might possibly, hopefully, somehow, become a thing.