Editing: it’s as important as being creative

Editing. The bane of my writerly existence. Given the dearth of complaints in the self-publishing realm, it’s pretty clear that many writers who think they know what they’re doing, don’t. It’s a skill far removed from the creative writing process. The main problem with self-editing is that it’s very difficult to separate one’s self from their writing.

Now some might claim that editing is not as important as others believe. Readers just don’t care that much. Well, that might be true for some, but others will put down a book with poor editing. So what? I’m making money, they’ll say. Well, lost sales are lost sales, and really? You can’t care about yourself as a writer enough to want to make your story the best it can be? This element bothers me. It reflects poorly on  the art of writing as a whole. Personally, I won’t read a book that displays poor editing, no matter how cool the story might be. If you can’t put in the effort, then why should I?

That said, editing is more than just proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation. While important, this is only the basics of editing.  There’s editing for content, structure, character, word choice, redundancy, and so on. You can train yourself in the rules in order to be good at the first part. The others are far trickier. The reason? Subjectivity.

Writers are too close to their writing. One of the most difficult aspects of the writing process is being able to pull away enough to see your words with an editor’s eye and not your writer’s. It’s not easy. It takes lots of practice. One of the best ways to do this is to have others who have the ability to critique well and edit with a heavy hand take a look at your work. Invariably others will see things that you just aren’t able to. They are looking at your words from a different angle, shedding light on the story in such a way that it illuminates things you didn’t see before.

For me, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a good editor, it’s often simple things like using certain words far too often, like the word “up” and “back.” We all have our habits we write with, grooves of comfort we write in that are extremely hard to get out of. Like many bad habits, getting someone else to point them out is the first step in breaking free. I have a tendency to overwrite, becoming redundant with many sentences that could easily say the same thing with fewer words. Even now, when I’m aware of some of these things, I find myself slipping into them over and over again. Practice people! You have to go through things over and over, altering your mind’s eye to see these things.

Being able to self-edit is tantamount to putting out a good story. Never assume you can see things in your work as easily as you think you can. Odds are, you can’t. You can always get better. You’re never done improving. If you think you’ve got it down, you’re wrong. Pure and simple.

Happy reading/writing everyone!

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One response to “Editing: it’s as important as being creative

  1. Very well said. Count me among those who will stop reading a book if it’s poorly edited. I also agree that the most effective criticism comes from readers other than the author, his family, or his friends. The more professional and objective the outside editor, the better.