Learning to edit

There are very few things as painful as having to cut a 6,000-word-long story down to under 3,000 words.

Still, sometimes it’s necessary. Editing and proofreading things has become almost as prevalent in my life as writing itself – I’m in the process of going through two novels for two different friends of mine (which I’ll definitely review and encourage you to buy once they get published), and last week I edited four different fanfics for teammates in the Quidditch League Fanfiction Competition. Not to mention my own work – which is significantly harder to edit, since it’s so close to my heart.

I used to be confused when I read interviews with famous authors who said that they had rewritten their novels about a million times before ending up with the finished product that they published. The concept was baffling to me. It’s already so hard to produce a quality first draft – how on Earth did they find the energy to rewrite the whole thing so many times? And once you’ve written a story, it’s mostly set in stone in your head – how much could possibly change drastically enough to require a full rewrite?

But nowadays, sitting at the computer with no less than thirty-five browser tabs, three pdf files and four different Word documents open (and all for a story that ranges between 3-6K), I think I’m beginning to understand. My writing has significantly improved over the past few years, thanks to things like the SATs that taught me to recognized when a sentence isn’t structured properly (I’ve never actually taken any English classes), and from editing other people’s work and figuring out what common mistakes we make as writers when we assume the reader will just get what we mean. I’ve rewritten and restructured short stories, and learned to go over them many times (on separate days, ideally, to try and keep a clear mindset every time). And beta readers are life savers – especially when even I’m getting confused with my plot.

Making every word mean something takes a lot of detachment, especially when there’s a flowery sentence that sounds amazing but doesn’t really contribute anything to the story. Switching between creative and critical requires a sort of blunt sincerity that I’m not used to – but it’s extremely useful, even though I have to control it when beta’ing stories for my friends, or my constructiveness will turn destructive. I’ve also found that reading snarky book reviews (see Jenny Trout’s hilarious blog) is both really entertaining and educational; sometimes after reading a ton of badly written mainstream fiction, you need someone to point out the gaping holes it has in order to avoid making the same mistakes yourself. It’s hard to notice when you’re so used to them.

And while I used to hate editing my things, I suspect that once I get back on track with my novel and actually finish it, I’ll have a much easier time going through 100K+ words and getting something of quality out of it. I know that I have a tendency to repeat words and use way too many commas, so those mistakes are some of the first things I seek out in my finished draft. I’ve become much better at punctuation and much better at cutting unnecessary things out – even though it hurts my soul, sometimes. But it’s refreshing to know that longer doesn’t necessarily mean better. You can write short things and still keep the same quality content.

(I’m still in pain about that story, though – I actually posted two versions. But I’m learning to let go.)

(also, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to put any editing energy into my blog. I’m lazy like that.)

What’s been your experience with editing? Please tell me in the comments!

Last week I wrote A Tapestry of Bruises for the QLFC, a Harry Potter fanfiction competition. I’ll be posting a new story within the next few days.

I have some pretty intense exams coming up this weekend, so please keep me in your thoughts! And if you see me on tumblr too much, please yell at me. I should be finishing the next chapter of The Malfoy Case sometime next week… I don’t want to focus too much on that and end up getting a bad grade.

One thought on “Learning to edit

  1. I love editing, at least the first three or four run-throughs. I love to see the story evolve, see clumsy sentences take on better shapes, and poorly chosen words give way to the right ones (or the closest I can get to the exactly right ones). It pays not to be in a hurry to publish because a story needs time for you to forget its details, become less attached to what you thought was transcendent writing.

    Liked by 1 person

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