Editing- The Soul-Sucking-Liberating-Horrible-Amazing Process

blog post- editing process

I’m convinced that anyone can write. Anyone can sit down and scribble their thoughts across a sheet of paper. That’s the easy part. Maybe calling ourselves writers isn’t exactly accurate. A writer ought to be defined as anyone, anywhere with the ability to write words on paper (or a tablet or laptop or what have you). Maybe we should just call ourselves— the writers and authors of the world— masters of manipulation.

I mostly write short pieces— blog posts and news articles. But for the past year, I’ve been working on a longer (54 pages) piece. Editing a short piece is relatively cut and dry:

  1. Write the piece
  2. Edit the piece for accuracy
  3. Edit the piece for grammar and punctuation
  4. Edit the piece for voice
  5. Give the piece one more read-over and make any other small changes
  6. Submit/Publish the piece

Editing a longer piece isn’t quite so simple. To begin with, it took everything I had to sit down and write something that long. Occasionally, I’d get into the fantastic “writer’s zone” and bang out 18 pages, but the majority of the process wasn’t like that. Most of the time, I argued with myself. Just 10 more minutes. You haven’t even written a whole page! Sit back down. Clean the bathroom later. Come on, you’ve got to get at least 1000 words down! I can say, that when my first draft was complete, I felt liberated… until I got the notes back from the person editing my piece. Question marks and notes and underlines and cross-outs were scrawled on EVERY page. I wanted to crawl in a hole, but I didn’t. Instead, I carefully read over all of the suggestions and implemented the ones I saw fit for my piece. I checked spelling and grammar once, twice, and then another time. This first edit took a few hours.

Happily, I submitted my second draft only to have it returned in a similar condition— suggestions and questions written all over the place. This time, I was more prepared. I knew the additional questions were coming, because I have an understanding (or so I thought) of the writing process . I repeated my process, pondering the questions and then tweaking my work. This edit also took a few hours. Now I felt more confident as I turned in my third draft. Okay, now only cosmetic and minor edits should be left, I thought. Wrong.

My reader submitted my piece back to me, and once again, notes everywhere. Defeat. I looked through the pages in dismay. I called my reader to discuss, and she asked me one simple question, “All of this is fine and good, but it’s nothing except a bunch of scenes. What’s the point of this story?” What’s the point. What did I want to convey to my reader? What lesson or theme  did I want to weave through my piece? At that moment, I had what’s known as a moment of clarity, of uninhibited inspiration, and I went to writing. This enabled me to take editing into my own hands. I cut sections and added characters here and nixed other characters there. I hacked away at useless words and clichés. I had a motive, a reason to write. My body (against my will) would wake me up at 4:30 in the morning daily, until this process was complete. And then, once again, it was time to edit. I printed all 56 (at the time) pages, and this time I edited the piece by myself before I sent it to my reader. I could pick out some of my own inconsistencies and weak transitions. I noticed where I was sinking into melodrama or losing voice. It was incredible. I submitted my fifth draft to my reader, and once again, she sent it back, but this time, there were less questions, less remarks and suggestions. She also called me. “This is what I was looking for,” she said. “Your edits make this a much stronger piece.”

Finally, I understood the writing process. Now, that piece isn’t finished. It still needs to be edited again— probably at least 10 times, but this revision process is the writing process. Anyone can write, but it’s combing through the inspiration that propelled you to write in the first place and finding the message and rewriting and repeating the process over and over and over again that makes for a quality work of art.

What about you? What’s your experience with editing?

Photo credit: flickr user Nic McPhee

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