Tips for Writers: Fall in Love with Editing

Presentation1

Man, I love coffee. But I didn’t always. “Too bitter!” I said. But I started drinking it because of what it could do for me (keep me alert during late night play rehearsals my first year of college). And then I began craving it.

Editing, like coffee, is an acquired taste. Few budding writers love it. Instead, many fantasize that, like Athena springing full-grown from the head of Zeus, flawless masterpieces will spring from their fingers. But Athena is a myth. And so are perfect first drafts.

Once I came to appreciate what editing could do for me, I ended up loving it. Almost as much as I love coffee.

In clay modelling, you start with a lump, from which you shape a rough version of the image in your head: wide-set eyes, hollow cheeks, hawk-like nose. Then you begin altering what you’ve created (moving the eyes further apart), removing what doesn’t belong (hollowing out those cheeks), and adding what does (building up the bridge of the nose).

Editing is the same:

  • First Draft – How rough is a first draft? That varies from writer to writer. Many barrel through, quickly shaping the lump (NaNoWriMo, anyone?). There’s a reason some call it a “vomit draft.” I prefer to edit yesterday’s work before continuing, even though I may later delete the passage. Why? Because it gets me back into the rhythm, takes me “there” again. Either way works. What matters is that you keep going!
  • Second Draft – There’s little point in reading straight through the first draft of a full-length work. Typos, awkward phrases and clunky metaphors cry out for mercy, like the half-human clone in Alien 3, “Kill me!” So go ahead, kill them, clone them—move eyes, hollow out cheeks, enlarge noses—be ruthless!
  • Third Draft – Now you can start focusing on structure and flow. Are there missing sections (needed backstory, cutaways to what’s happening elsewhere)? Are there unnecessary or overwritten passages that slow the rising action? If you outlined your work beforehand (the best way to develop the structure), review it—have you veered away from it? Or does the Outline itself need reworking—which will then serve as a guide for this revision.

At this point, your objectivity will go MIA. That’s when it’s time to call in the special ops team, the Alpha Readers, the first people you allow to see your baby (clay, alien, whatever). Find readers whose opinions you value—writer’s group members, bloggers you admire, strangers in bars.*

And then you wait.

And wait.

When you finally get their comments, you will:

  1. Seethe at their ridiculously wrong-headed suggestions!
  2. Slowly begin to realize some of them may be right

That’s when, armed with the comments you’ve discovered actually make pretty good sense, you’ll begin your next draft.

Man, I love the smell of editing in the morning.

*Never submit this draft or–God forbid–an even earlier one, to a publisher!

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
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99 Responses to Tips for Writers: Fall in Love with Editing

  1. Awesome tips!
    BTW, coffee gets bitter because of exposure to oxygen. Fresh roasted and ground doesn’t really have that bitterness.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I love to edit.

    Then, again… it can get obsessive. There is a collection of words called, “Editing something to death” until it might become a completely different story, or even just a load of confusion. A mess, so to speak, which is why it’s always a good thing to back-up your work, either through a separate document, or by memory. Lol.

    Liked by 8 people

  3. trE says:

    In all honesty, I think I love editing a whole lot more now than I do writing. This was not always the case.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. hettystuart says:

    Excellent advice. Haste is something to be avoided…better to get slaughtered by a good editor. I love constructive criticism – iron sharpens iron. My best piece of advice I got: Quote by William Faulkner: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I can’t say that I love editing. It’s more like a “like” you have for the girl you want to be friends with, but not to marry. My biggest problem is thinking faster than I can type and leaving out words. And maybe worse than that, misspelling words that are actually words when they’re misspelled. Those are terribly hard to catch.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I can edit others really well. Not bragging, it’s just a skill I acquired after proofing an average of ten news releases a day for over twelve years.

    It pains me to read a book without editors pencil in hand.

    But I’m completely unable to edit myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. gregoryjoel says:

    Thanks Mitch! I appreciate all the tips I get. Editing is not my first choice since I tend to get in a hurry. Trying to post on my schedule these days is rushed.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. martina kia says:

    This was a great read!! I actually started doing some editing gigs and I’ve come to realise I’m an okay writer, but a great editor!!
    Thanks Mitch!😊

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Mike says:

    I have the opposite problem — I could tinker with a ms forever. When I finally get to the point where neither I nor my beta readers can find room for improvement, I get a little sad. I hate to let go.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. lprslr says:

    “Be ruthless” – perfect!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Bette Cox says:

    Put some time between edits and things go better… unless you’re on a timetable crunch, of course. I used to edit other people’s writings as part of my work and got so accustomed to editing everything, I tend to WANT to edit everybody else’s stuff nowadays! Even yours, Mitch… Reading your work out loud before finally publishing it online is a good idea too. Thanks for the helpful post!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. atimetoshare.me says:

    Just like living each day – trying to forget past mistakes or altering what happens today / all working toward a great finished product.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is excellent advice. I love to edit and always feel I am gaining so much through the process.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Stephanae says:

    Excellent tips! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Eliza Ayres says:

    Reblogged this on Blue Dragon Journal.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I have a friend whose father was a editor for a big publisher. She learned to be a good editor herself and said that in one of the read throughs he taught her to read the draft backwards. She said it caught mistakes.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I have yet to get to the editing portion of my book. Part of me is dreading it and part of me knows that it’s part of the process. Awesome tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. A.P. says:

    Agreed that it’s an acquired taste, but I must say I love editing. It’s actually become the fun part.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I’m with you on the importance of editing. I’d sooner walk down the street naked than let someone else read one of my first drafts.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. but, I’m a tea drinker …

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Mary Jane says:

    Thanks, this applies to other things in life too!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Laura Jinkins says:

    What a great blog post! I’m sharing this with my critique group post haste. I’m currently reading “Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen” by Mary Norris, who has worked in the copy department of The New Yorker for over three decades. It is a fun read for any word nerd.

    I am working on a novel (I almost said “writing” a novel, but there are days it feels much more like WORK than WRITING) and I have been submitting portions for critique as I go along. I’ve heard this is not the best way to do it, but it seems to work for me. My word nerds have helped me get back on track before I veer too far off course as the story unfolds. Each time I get their comments, I go back and revise the ones I agree with, and then I can move forward with a more clear vision of what needs to happen next. I am more pantster than planner, so that probably explains a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Wow, I’ll add my 2 cents to this voluminous response right now then go back and read all the other comments. Here is a short piece where I recommended RE-READING ALOUD to test wether a piece flows or stumbles. In editing my own or others’ work I love to re-arrange clauses to various places in a sentence or paragraph and then assess the results. Enjoy:
    https://writersclass.net/2019/10/26/editing-your-writing/

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Great post! I can’t say I love editing, but I find it essential to improve my writing. Just finished editing a draft for the 5th time I believe. It’s taken shape with each edit. Hard work, but very fulfilling in the end. I suppose I’m “falling in love with editing” 🤗

    Liked by 1 person

  25. emeraldsun33 says:

    This is just what I needed to read! I’ve been trying to talk myself into working more on editing and appreciate your approach of growing to enjoy it! That’s encouraging! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Pingback: Reposted: Tips for Writers: Fall in Love with Editing | A Song of Joy by Caroline Furlong

  27. rebeccalee says:

    Great tips thank you! I need to fall
    In love with editing ahhhh
    I am in the process of finding some beta readers for my third draft fingers crossed 🤞

    Liked by 1 person

  28. A.P. says:

    Shared on Twitter @starsworth

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Maryanne says:

    I view writing as “the band” and editing as “the producer” of the project. I enjoy both.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. With each revision, I learn more about the subject and about myself. Thank you for this great post.!
    Karen

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Mkanyion says:

    I’ve just started to get serious about writing regularly. Stumbling upon your blog (especially this article!) has been inspiring. Keep on!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. mitchteemley says:

    I will. You too, Meshach!

    Like

  33. Niki Flow says:

    I read this when you published it, but I am just now getting to thank you for it. Thank you, Mitch. Grateful for you! ♥.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Ratanang says:

    Thank you for tipping us. I edit everything before I post it, to my horror, a friend of mine read my posts and said I needed to be better at editing because she found a few discreet errors, but you’re correct though it’s slightly painful and if goes unchecked can give one a heart attack or stroke, criticism on one’s work is important for their growth.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. allysonhuber says:

    I need to fall in love with editing… unfortunately, we are far from that point. But doing things like reading aloud and giving myself goals (i.e. getting through a certain amount of chapters in a week) has helped keep me sane and motivated

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Isn’t it great how wisdom teaches us to appreciate things that are good for us? Like vegetables.
    I now crave brussel sprouts and coffee. I also enjoy the editing process. There are few things in life that give us second, third, and more chances to get it right, or at least try to. Thanks for your perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      And thanks for your comments, Michele.

      Like

    • I know, right? I just looked at Mitch’s original quote by Stephen King. I thought of that this morning as I went back and re-edited (for about the 4th time) a short story I’m working on. It’s kind of like listening to yourself on a tape recorder: you hear every little stupid quirk in your speaking, every pitchy lapse in your singing—but in writing you’re able to go back and correct that stuff. Then when you “re-listen” to it, it gets better and better. Divine. Absolutely divine.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Your comment made me think of when I first started writing. Editing was like doing amateur surgery on one’s first-born. Now I’m not as emotionally invested in early drafts. I look at them more as a jumble, needing to be sorted out, with the hope that something useful might emerge.

      Liked by 2 people

  37. dovalpage says:

    Sharing with all my writers (and non writers) friends. I am in the middle of a translation of one of my books, which is awfully close to editing. Having coffee (several times a day) seems to help. Happy New Year!

    Liked by 2 people

  38. Imdalegreene says:

    I’m a painter. And I see the writing process to be very similar to painting. I loved the comparison to sculpture. The arts are about conveying emotion and the process must be similar for everyone.

    Liked by 2 people

    • My daughter is a visual artist, and while I notice similarities between her creative process and mine (writing), hers and yours, seems less forgiving. I can delete and retype much easier than she can repaint, it seems. This seemed particularly true one evening, a few years ago, when I watched her brush lacquer over paintings she had already sold. No room for error. Yikes! Thank God for the artists, in all forms. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  39. mahiparmar says:

    Great advice for the beginners

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Kim Maria says:

    I am working on my third novel and the chapter I worked on, has to be edited, I’m not certain there is enough poetic license in the world to keep it

    Liked by 1 person

  41. Pingback: I Am a Novelist! | Mitch Teemley

  42. ldtynan says:

    Terrific post Mitch. On point, practical and I’m using every sage piece of advice from you. Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

  43. literarylydi says:

    Thanks, do you work in publishing? I’ve just written my first book, but after seven years of careful crafting I’m taking a bit of a break from it to renew my creative energy! Hopefully then I’ll be able to do a third draft with the advice in this article. Thanks for sharing!

    https://literarylydi.wordpress.com/2020/01/19/on-finishing-a-novel/

    Liked by 1 person

  44. Robert Partington says:

    At my house, there’s no such thing as final copy.

    Liked by 1 person

  45. Bhagyashree says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading your post.

    P. S. Are you into story writing? I have started a story hop on my blog. Would you like to be a part of it?

    Liked by 1 person

  46. Pingback: Tips for Writers: Fall in Love with Editing — Mitch Teemley | Festival Reviews

  47. Pingback: Tips for Writers: Fall in Love with Editing — Mitch Teemley – Submit your story logline and showcase it on this network. Or, submit to get your story made into a Video Pitch

  48. I love the way you have compared editing to coffee. So true. And I take mine without sugar. Because I have read prolifically all my life I believe that when I read my own work I’m a pretty good editor – the trouble is that I have an entire back story in my head and am love for my characters that other people don’t have – my book is with my first readers and an editor at the moment – I am preparing my ego for a fall. Can’t wait!

    Liked by 1 person

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