Murdering Your Words AKA Editing

Curious  Cow
A curious cow that wonders why I’m inside my office editing instead of enjoying the Lancastrian sunshine…

There is nothing beautiful or clean about the editing process – at least, not in my case. It’s a messy, frustrating and extenuating duty. But, at the end of the long day (or night) of fighting against your draft you know you’re turning that monster into a pretty piece of decent art, and that is what matters (that, and keeping your sanity in place, of course).

I used to hate editing so much when I wrote in Spanish. It just made me angry. I was very enthusiastic when writing my first draft  but then, coming back to it and realising that some parts were… well, just shit, that was not nice. So I basically went through editing because I had to, but it was a very draining process that I kept postponing as much as I could.

Now, hen I write in English, I cannot allow myself such luxury. I’m editing from day one, because I know my language can be quite obscure so I do need to revise one thousand times each paragraph to make sure it makes sense and it says what I want it to say. Paradoxically, I find editing in English much more entertaining than in Spanish. I see it as if I was carving stone and turning the ugly, shapeless rock in some unique statue.

the_ecstasy_of_saint_theresa
I imagine myself carving things such as this…

However, as I said, editing islike murdering your dear words, and there are a few things I always do to make sure the process is completed despite of my artistic vanity.

1. Read Aloud

Come on. Who doesn’t like the sound of her or his own voice? I love reading to myself (when I’m alone, I have to say, if I’m reading in front of an audience I get a bit self-conscious about my accent or my speed). Reading what I just wrote help me to change things because they simply sound better one way than the other. It also allows me to avoid cacophony and take out from the dialogues what is not essential.

2. Let It Breathe

Ideally, I’d let a text breathe for at least 24 hours before coming back to it to do the editing. This allows me to distance myself from the page so I start seeing the obvious mistakes (such as grammar or discordances). Also, the more time you can allow a text breathe, the better. Sometimes I write something I feel very unsatisfied with (I want to burn the pages and flush the ash down the toilet). However, experience tells me that if I come back to that same text six months afterwards, I’ll find many valuable passages that can be rescued. So, I’d say, never delete something. Keep everything (even what seems truly worthless) because in time you can still recycle some metaphor, some line of dialogue…

3. Bring Your Beta Reader In

Sometimes you feel stuck in the editing process. You know there’s loads of work to be done, yet you’ve become blind in front of your text and start thinking you’d rather let twenty Cumbrian spiders do races all over your body than keep editing that part of your work. Well… this is when your fantastic, awesome beta reader can be there for you and have a good read of the troublesome extract. Her or his perspective will help you narrow down your editing and identify what is not working and what actually does work (horray!)

4. Start at the End of the Page

This might be just my strange thing, but when I’m editing the same few pages on and on I get a bit (too) tired of them. Something that helps me spice up the task a bit is to start reading from the last paragraph to the first. By altering the order the text becomes slightly different and I’m more alert.

5. Choose Your Bright Period

I’m more awake  in the morning, so that’s the moment of the day when I’m more prepared (and motivated) to do the heavy editing. It’s important to do the editing with a clear mind so you can localise the mistakes quickly instead of feeling frustrated because the process is dragging on and on and it seems to never end.

editing
This is me after a productive day of editing…

6. Print It

This is so essential if you (as many of us do, for practical reasons) work on a computer. People may say what they want, but I see things differently when I can read them on paper (and not on the screen). Also, it makes more sense to me to grab a red pen and start crossing out sections, pointing arrows at things, doing mini comments… Also, I read somewhere that some writer said that editing on a physical page is good because the margins have reduced space. It’s not like on the computer, where you can delete and change endlessly. So you have to prioritise the areas where the bigger problems are. And also, helps you to keep focused.

7. This Won’t Be Your Last Work!

Well, hopefully not, right? Unless you’re a genius writer of a single, awesome book (like Harper Lee and her To Kill A Mockingbird, although she did write a sequel in the end) one work in your career is yet another step in a huge, steep stair… I like to think I improve with every story I wrote, so even if the one I’m working on will be better than the last, it won’t be better than the next. I think it’s important to think this not to fail in the perfectionist’s trap. No book or short story I ever wrote felt completely finished. Never. I could always go back and change this adjective, modify that scene, even add new features to a particular character… but instead of that I chose to let that story go to let other new ones come in return. It’s a pact you have to do with yourself. The end of your love story with a particular piece can occur when the professional editing is process is over and the work is published… or when the deadline for that contest or module is done. There is always an external event that marks this, and I think it’s okay to leave our pieces to approach new ones. Yes, sure, they could be improved… but remember you acquire new skills by trying new things!

Or, you can do as the Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez and dedicate half of your life to write and the other half to edit what you’ve written… it’s a very personal choice!

I won’t lie. I don’t love the editing process, but  it is the scary forest I have to cross to bring  to the other end of the writing journey. So I’m sort of accepting that is an important (and sometimes enjoyable) part of being a writer.

And how about you? Do you have any tips to share? If you write in a second language, do you find easier the editing process, as I do?

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