Editing is your best friend

For those familiar with this blog, you will be aware the it started primarily as a means to display the output from a daily writing exercise. The idea being that I write for at least 15 minutes a day. It’s a common exercise really and nothing new. Well to me it was, but I figured I could do more with it than ordinary notes, something different I could use to stimulate my brain. Hence the blog.

I have only been going on the blog for almost a month and a half, so it’s still all new, still fun, and I’m definitely still learning. In this time it has evolved a little from what I thought it might be, to some regular features and some totally new stuff. Less diary things than I thought, maybe not enough exercises. I never wanted the blog to be about just one thing, the sort of thing you could just read a book or magazine for. You can get some good discussion out of it, there is no question of that, but for me, I just didn’t want to do something you could buy a book for. I want some elements of that (like this post), but I want to mix it up a bit. The reader will more likely get a surprise than not. Well that is intention for now.

Some important elements as regards my work on the blog work so far, is that I tend to write for a lot longer than 15 minutes, and sometimes with some rather long posts. More than someone might wish to read if just browsing some blogs. The other is that there is often (especially in the longer pieces) a first draft feel, and I can be a little verbose at times. Both of these have their positives, 1) it is good putting in the effort, trying to communicate ideas. 2) the point is to do this blog with little preparation, i.e. off the top of my head so I use more time on other projects. But on some posts, I just cannot shake the feeling that it could have been a little different, or a little better.

This is where I need to remember one of the writer’s best friends, “the edit”. Editing is actually one of the most important skills for a writer but one which is often considered the least. Perhaps because it should come after you’ve created something, perhaps because it is a little tedious, and more likely, because it can be difficult to do. Yet editing can be the difference between an ordinary piece, and a good or even great one.

 

Towards the end of last year, The Who released a box set of the album “Quadrophenia” (my favourite Who album). It contained demos for the album as well as the album proper. I mention this because The Who were good editors. Quadrophenia could have been a lot different, but Pete Townsend realised what worked and what to cut. He was able to step back and evaluate what made the project work best. He considers Quadrophenia to be the work he is most proud of. It demonstrates the power of the edit.

Writing is much the same, the writer needs to try to realise what works and what doesn’t. It might be cutting something that doesn’t work, it may be reducing the amount of words, it might be trimming things out just so it flows better, or has better tension where needed. A certain amount could be done whilst writing, but often is better when done as a revision draft. The difficulty of course, is being able to view it a step back or with a fresh pair of eyes.

 

In 2009 Raymond Carver’s widow Tess had Carvers original versions of stories from “What we talk about when we talk about love” published in a book “beginners” alongside the versions that went to print. It illustrated that his editor Gordon Lish, had done some pretty large edits on the text, restructuring it in places, and transforming it overall. In this case it illustrated that a storywriter and editor can create something good. This book is available in the US, in the Library of America edition, which covers all of Carver’s stories.

Myself I find it easier to edit someone else’s work than my own. I can much easier see a word that shouldn’t be there, or a section that doesn’t make sense. Reading it with fresh eyes I can see sections that aren’t needed and where something doesn’t flow with the rest of it. On my own work it is more difficult without a little time away. Too much invested in it.

Also there is the “killing your babies” idea. You may write something fabulous but it just does’t fit what you are writing. It might individually be the best thing in the pice, but unfortunately it stands out that way. You need to accept that this isn’t the place for it and remove it, hence the infamous “killing your babies”. Do what is right for the piece.

For the blog I need to cut things down a bit. With an infant child around I don’t have masses of time to use, so whilst this daily exercise is good, I ought to use more of the time on my own projects. I also need to learn to cut my wordiness, perhaps and be more direct. I need to embrace the fact that editing can be my best friend.

Lexicon word of the day: athwart.

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4 comments on “Editing is your best friend

  1. I try to write at least 15 minutes a day as well.

  2. Jeannie says:

    I just finished reading Stephen King’s “On Writing” and he emphasizes the editing point. He suggests putting what you write away for awhile, do other things, start other projects, THEN, come back and edit with the fresh eyes you speak of here. In particular he says “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings”. Ouch!

    • mrbrainsplat says:

      I read that a long time ago, but I’ve forgotten what the points were. I was thinking of re-reading it!

      I think having some time away and thinking of something else is they best approach to editing. It’s tough as you may want to edit straight away. So difficult though. As is the kill your babies / darlings, or however we want to phrase it. Something you are fond of and realising it just isn’t right for the thing you are working on.

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