I’ve been waist-deep in editing the last few weeks, trying to get not only the next book to a stage where it’s ready for other eyes, but also a few other projects that needed intense editing before completion. I used to hate the editing process, because it seemed so tedious – delete a comma here, fix punctuation there, rephrase a sentence until it’s clear. To a younger me, it was mostly busy work.
I don’t feel that way anymore – editing is one of my favorite stages of the writing process. I love getting feedback, hearing what works and what doesn’t, what makes people laugh and what makes people cry. I even like hearing what’s confusing or unclear, because a lot of the times, I already felt the same way and just need confirmation, and maybe another point of view to figure out why so I can fix it.
What changed? I found a couple of really fantastic editors, who not only pointed out the incorrect comma placements, the clunky sentences, and the slightly off characterization – but they also questioned why I’d done things. They pushed back, they pointed out logical leaps, they said things that made me want to explore my plot a bit deeper.
In short, they turned editing from a chore to an absolute delight. Now, when I read through my drafts, I’m trying to emulate them. I ask myself the same questions: not just “Is this where the comma goes?” but also, “Is this where this scene goes? Is this what the character needs to ask right now? Am I missing some important piece of information in their backstory that will make it click?”
I always see posts online about how important it is to get the first draft down: that it’s okay if the words are terrible, because no one expects a first draft to be fantastic. It occurred to me, while I was in the middle of editing, that being a writer isn’t the ability to write a story. Anyone can write a story: that’s the whole point about programs like NaNoWriMo and websites like fanfiction.net. It’s the first draft that turns a daydream into a story.
But it’s the second draft that turns a story-teller into a writer.
Writers don’t stop at a first draft. They sit down and edit the complete drivel they’ve just written. Anyone can write a first draft. Not everyone has the patience to turn those first drafts into middling second, decent third, and fabulous fourth drafts. (Not to mention the fifth, sixth, and even seventh drafts.)
Really, I’d venture to say that the best writers are also the best self-editors. They recognize that first drafts are usually complete and total crap, and then have the patience and self-awareness to fix them.
I’ve always written stories – but I think it’s only in the last few years that I’ve been comfortable calling myself a writer. I think perhaps this different approach to the process is probably key to why.
I think editing your own writing is similar to what I was taught in USAF Navigator training school=Once you catch your own errors before the instructor (or pilot) does, then you can call yourself a Navigator.
That makes total sense to me!