The Importance of Being Edited

Editing is the part of writing that takes your flabby text and trims it into something that works. If the original idea is good enough, editing makes it shine.

Some people, like my friend Hamish and writer Gail Carriger, enjoy editing. Drafting is a rough activity, like cutting a form from a block of marble. Editing lets you file off the rough edges, polish surfaces and make your prose shine. Unfortunately, I don’t like editing much. It’s slow. It reminds me of planning dinner parties: I want to come up with the menu, do the shopping or cook the food – not all three. It’s like having the meal three times over. I lose interest. (In the food, not the dinner party itself.)

Editing is inevitable, however. At first, when I realised that I spend two or three hours editing for every hour I spend writing, I thought there’s be a way of cutting down on editing. If my first drafts were better, editing would be faster. If my ideas were more thoroughly thought out, my first draft would be better. The conclusion to my thought experiment was that to edit less, I needed to write less. On the one hand, that is true: less text, fewer changes. But on the other hand, writing less means producing fewer stories and not learning the lessons that each teaches me. My aim is to write more, not less.

Fiction writing is very different from the technical writing I’ve been doing for years. There, the structure is everything. You work out the structure, do the research and fill in the words. It’s easy. To me, writing fiction is still difficult. There are so many possible structures, voices and approaches, so many different words to choose between. Editing helps me pick the right ones.

I might not much like the process of editing, but  I do like the effect it has on my text.