Edit Til You Cain’t Edit No More

Apart from the terrible grammar, that is excellent advice.  In fact, except for sitting down and writing the first draft, editing is by far the most important thing a writer can do.  I know that, you know that.  We’ve all heard it many times.  But, really, as a writer, having written for many, many years, I am continually amazed by how a good draft truly can be transformed from good to freakin’ amazing, just with editing.

Since the advice is conventional wisdom, why am I mentioning it here?  The writing world has transformed in the last decade or so.  Mostly by the lovely creation of free and easy self-publishing.  But that freedom and ease can cause undue haste.  Write something, publish it.  Move on to the next project.  And the next, and the next after that.  The entire instantaneous internet culture only feeds that hit and run mentality.  But please, take a deep breath, ease on back.  When it comes to editing, take your time.  And some more time.  And some time after that.  Make your creation the very best it possibly can be, before sending it off into the world for all to read.

I’ve gotten some great editing advice from my good friend Amy, who has published quite a few books in the traditional publishing world.  And I’ve developed some of my own throughout the years.  None of this advice is groundbreaking.  Countless writers have discovered it all long before us.  But I’ll mention a few points here, more as reminders to myself than anything else.

– After completing a story (or non-fiction piece), put it away for at least a few weeks.  Don’t look at it.  Get some distance.  Let the immediacy of it recede from your mind.  When you pick it up again, you will see it through fresher eyes.  Edit it until you can’t edit any more.  Then repeat this entire process quite a few times.

– If you find yourself skimming over a paragraph, get rid of it.  Your reader will skip over it altogether.

– If you yourself must read a sentence more than once to understand it, alter or get rid of it.  That sentence will only confuse and/or annoy your reader.  This advice goes for longer sections, as well.  Anything that causes a reader to pause and reread yanks him up out of the story, out of your story world, out of the realm that you spent so much time and effort creating.

– Even if a sentence is beautiful, the most perfect you’ve ever written, if it interrupts the flow of your story, get rid of it.  This advice is extremely difficult to follow.  I’m editing my next book, Brilliant Disguise, right now, and I’ve had to eliminate some beautiful sentences that I adored.  I nearly shed a tear.  Sigh.  But the story flowed better without them, so delete them I did.

– If you have an instinct to eliminate something, do so.  Immediately.  Even if you aren’t sure why, even if your rational mind tries to convince you otherwise, eliminate.  That instinct will never lead you astray.

– Tighten all dialogue.  Eliminate any that doesn’t illuminate and strengthen your story.  It is amazing how well both story and character development can be conveyed in short exchanges.  Far better, in fact, than in lengthy conversations.  There is great beauty, elegance, and impact in a few well-chosen lines.

– Less is more.  ‘Nuff said.  Edit and eliminate and tighten.  Get rid of the superfluous, get rid of the confusing, distill your story down to its true golden essence.

Happy editing to you all!



10 thoughts on “Edit Til You Cain’t Edit No More

  1. Great post. My biggest edit was an entire chapter, condensing the bare essentials into one paragraph. I decided it was boring and added nothing to the story. Nor was it as amusing two weeks later as I had imagined at the time. DELETE. No regrets either.
    Do you edit as you go along, chapter by chapter, as well? I have always done this but I recently discovered most people don’t, which I found surprising.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do edit as I write. Quite a lot in fact. Chapter by chapter. But despite this ongoing editing, it always seems amazing to me that after I’ve finished a first draft and set it aside for a while, how very badly it still needs editing. And more editing beyond that. I’ve done a full-out edit on Her Very Own Demon at least a dozen times over, but even now as I’m reading the proof copy of the book, I’m still finding more aspects to edit. I guess, if I allowed, editing could be never ending. But I’m going to stop after this last round, have a nice glass of wine with my sweetie, and send my book into the wild blue yonder 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • I agree completely! That is true, I think, for people who are dedicated to making their work the best it can be before publishing. But I think quick and easy self-publishing has the potential to curtail editing to a large degree. Write, publish, write something else. I can see how it might be difficult in this instantaneous age to spend time editing something already finished, when that same time could be spent writing something new. Just a thought 🙂 Happy writing to you!


  2. It is comforting to know I am not the only one struggling with editing and needing to know when to stop. I dream of paying other people to eoit for me, but they can’t add a few words or take some away to improve the flow, only the author can do that to satisfy themselves. I believe a great story will cover a few small mistakes for a newbie to self publishing. To write a novel and publish is an achievement and I love it when someone says they enjoyed my e-book. The scary thing is going to be when the paperback goes to print and you know that editing opportunities are over.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great tips right there. I hate editing, that’s when I get so sick of a story that I completely lose faith that anyone will ever want to read it, leading to massive crying fits and closing myself up in a dark room for weeks before I am able to work up the courage to send it off to a publisher.

    Yeah, editing. It sucks. But you’re right, it IS necessary. If only we could stick to only doing the things we love in life.

    Liked by 1 person

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