Like I’ve mentioned before, I love writing. But editing remains one of the greatest pains of the writing process. When I sit down to edit, the pesky ghosts of my public education begin to emerge – the memory of every teacher who ever told me my writing wasn’t good enough. Staring down my computer screen, these voices can be paralyzing.
Some of my friends LOVE to edit. These individuals enjoy tinkering with language, picking apart sentences, finding their flaws, and correcting them like a skilled surgeon. Me? Editing is more like a game of Operation. Always triggering the flashing red light and horrible buzzer. If there’s one thing keeps me from writing, it’s the inevitable necessity of the red ink.
The moment I’m handed back my writing dripping in red, I start to choke with anxiety. My mind begins to cloud over as I try to absorb all the marks, comments, and criticisms. The inevitable “this piece has potential, but” (I am so utterly sick of the word “potential”) turns on the waterworks without fail. In these moments, I struggle to move past the overwhelmingness to edit.
But editing is important. Having a clean and polished piece is a necessity. That poem Julie was nice enough to showcase for the website launch took me over a year to edit. I can’t imagine how long my novel will take to edit once it’s finally finished. But it’s a good poem and I’m proud of it. Seeing it finished has been one of those moments that keeps me writing. I’ve proven to myself I can finish something. It’s taken me awhile, though, to figure out what works for me.
Below are 9 things I’ve tried that have helped make my editing process immensely easier. Maybe they can help you too.
1. Find someone you trust to look at your writing
This is key. Having someone you can feel comfortable with at your worst makes all the difference. I have two people who have looked at my writing on a consistent basis for years now. They provide a balance between taking care of my fragile ego and remaining honest.
They know how I tick and what will bring out the best in my writing. I have learned and improved over the years simply because they were willing to help with my writing. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without them.
2. Google Docs and Track Changes: Your new best friends
These tools have been teachers in their own right. I’m a visual learner. The more I can see something, the greater the chance it’ll eventually stick. Don’t just let a friend edit and be done with it. You won’t learn much this way. Seeing the different colors, the edits, and the comments intersecting with the writing allow me to see what I generally miss (which can be a lot). Through this process I can begin to understand why that dash or that comma works better. Why that word doesn’t work or what’s not working with the content. And as you see the red diminish and as you catch those edits yourself, you’ll feel a sense of pride. You will notice your improvements.
3. Allow time for the freak-out-meltdown
Sometimes you just need to let the negativity happen. It’s going to rear its ugly head one way or another, so you might as well work with it. So you’ve gotten your document back with Track Changes or marked up from critique. The bloody mess is at first overwhelming. This is how I deal with it so I can get to editing faster:
Set a timer for 20 minutes. I don’t recommend anything more because once you are swept away in a wave of pity, it takes longer to get out of the modality you’re momentarily creating.
In that 20 minutes go ahead: cuss, cry, curl up into a ball, and be a mess. Let the inadequacy flow. Free write about how you’ll never amount to anything. About how your old teachers and critics are right. Or write about how no one understands you or what you are trying to do. How your editors and commentators know nothing. Eat chocolate, take a run, punch a punching bag— anything that gets the critic and the pain of the red out of the body.
When the timer goes off, stop. Take yourself away from the writing for a bit before coming back to it. I’m not saying it always works. It may take longer to be nice to yourself. I do notice, however, that I feel a hell of a lot better and I can absorb all the red and the comments and get to editing a lot easier.
4. Separate your drafts into sections
Attacking all of your writing at once is going to overwhelm you. Start out with one thing and work on it. I always start with content first. I may break this into plot, dialogue, or prose. And then I will tackle structure and grammar. I always leave mechanics for the final drafts because they are the hardest for me to work on and take greater care and time.
5. Don’t drink – really!
I know this may seem like silly advice. Every writer drinks, right? Well, in my opinion, it’s just not helpful. Writing demands that we look at some of the most intimate, secretive, painful aspects of our psyche. It can be downright difficult. Add the extra pressure of structure and grammar demands and it’s tempting to use something to get through it all.
In the end, substances dull the senses and the writing process takes longer than if we would’ve edited without it. If you need a form of ritual that drinking or smoking provides, try brewing some tea or maybe coffee. Get your favorite snack if you need to funnel all that anxiety somewhere. Sometimes the act of priming alone is a helpful way of getting to the page. We don’t want to let our writing drive us to addiction.
6. Step away for a bit
Maybe nothing you try is working. Maybe you feel drained and like nothing is improving. If so, put the writing away. We can get too attached or too close to a piece of writing. Our brains have compensated and what we’re looking at seems perfectly fine. I’ve had to bench projects for a couple of years before I could come back to them. When you come back you can look at the flaws in your writing with better ease. Time is one of the best tools you can use for yourself and your writing.
7. If more than two people give the same comment, consider it
If one person gives you feedback but you don’t agree with it, that’s fine. But if several people look at your writing and have the same feedback, then you need to step back and consider it. Experiment with what works and what doesn’t. This doesn’t mean you have to make every single change people tell you to, but trends do help highlight what you need to work on. This leads us to number 8:
8. Don’t kill your darlings – recycle them!
I am remarkably stubborn about my writing. There are certain lines, metaphors or turns of phrase that I absolutely fall in love with. I refuse to let them go, even if several people have commented that is doesn’t suit my piece. But sometimes it just doesn’t work.
Highlighting something and cutting it out of a piece feels very much like I am killing something. This death makes the writing better, though. I recommended never actually killing anything you write. Create a document for your scraps and save it. Those thrown away bits of writing may come in handy later.
9. Trust yourself
Above anything else, you need to trust yourself. Everyone has their own opinion and just because you have edited to perfection doesn’t mean everyone will like the choices you’ve made for your writing. Still, others will find flaws in you writing. People have different tastes and are going to connect with different writing.
If you are overwhelmed with edits and comments and aren’t sure what’s working for you, do rely on your intuition. It won’t fail you. At the end of the day it is your voice, your writing, and your story you’re telling. Don’t lose your voice in the process of editing just because others may be better at writing than you.
I hope you’ll find some of these tips useful. Have anything to add? I’d love to know what others do to help them in the editing process. I could always use more tools to get me through it. Till the next article…happy writing!