The REAL Work

A meme floated across my media feed the other day. It went along the lines of “when you’re done writing the story, the real work can begin: editing!” I’ll be honest: it pissed me off. I’m still a bit tetchy about it. I think it denigrates the creation of stories, and plays right into the large publishers vision for writers as penitent petitioners, asking to please, please, please be considered for the great honor of being allowed to be published.

Look, for writers, editing is often hard because it’s not what we want to do. We want to get our hands into the world, get the sentences down on the page, and do the meaty work of writing. And then it’s done, and why should I muck about with changing things? Change is hard, and I’ve already written the story. It doesn’t need changing! Leave my darlings alone!

Weeeeelllllllll, the trick, then, is (again. As always. I know, I know: I’m sorry) figuring out what works for you and doing it. I know several authors who immediately put away what they’ve finished, and start working on something else. Then, after a few weeks, they come back and start working through it, starting with a solid read through, and then working on any changes they find.

Others send the manuscript out to their beta readers immediately. They work on something else for a while (I’m starting to sense a pattern, here) and when they get feedback from their readers, they dive into it again to figure out what to change. And then there are folks who have an editor waiting on them. Finish manuscript, send in, chew nails until the edit letter gets there. (Nah, I’m kidding: they almost always start working on something else.) Then there are people like Dean Smith, who typically write one draft, pick over it for typos and suchlike, and hit publish. Of course, Dean has a few decades of writing under his belt. He’s far less likely to mess that up than someone like, I don’t know, me.

My own style is, I’m told, a little unusual. I edit as I’m writing. “Nope, that sentence is wrong.” “Oh, that scene needs … something. How about this?” “Huh, I love where this is going, buuuuuuut … no, it really needs to happen about twenty thousand words later into the story. They need to get where they’re going, and run into people, and then get in that bar fight, so she can learn that she does know how to fight, and then everybody can be shocked, and I can ratchet up the tension that much more …” So my writing often looks like me juggling a few too many *ahem* items for my skill level. (Incidentally, it’s worse when I’m telling the Little their Pretend Story. It’s why I’m taking notes after. The male protagonist just got a “gem” lodged in his hand that may or may not give him interesting abilities utilizing solar-based energies…) I’ve done this with my writing as long as I’ve been writing, so even if it slows down my actual production, I feel (don’t know: need to start working on metrics and tracking) like it produces a better and cleaner product in the end. Maybe. (Incidentally, this is the problem with such an individual journey as writing is. Just because a thing works for you, doesn’t mean it’ll work for your identical twin, while it worked for your mutual buddy on one book, but not on the next. I feel like we need to start conducting auguries to find out the truth about this stuff. Sure sheep guts know more than we do.)

Is editing the real hard work of the writing process? I don’t think so, though that may well be just my subjective experience. At least, it’s not the hardest part for me. That would be finishing things without getting a half dozen new pro- I mean, getting a half dozen distractions crowing for my attention in the back of my skull. As always, try things. Find what works for you. Editing might be the most labor-like part of writing, but is it the hardest? Not for me.


  1. Yes, they’re both work. Art is work, and prose is work. It’s good you got a blog post out of it, but take it for what it was: a dumb meme.

    (I work far more hours on research + draft than I do on edits.)

  2. I would argue that editing is the WORK of the writing process. During the first draft, there a lot of places where I say, “Okay, this sucks, but I’ll fix it in the editing process.” Well, when editing arrives, it usually turns out that there’s a reason I didn’t want to just do it in the first place, and there’s a lot of painful writing, erasing, writing, erasing, and writing again until I finally get a sentence I like. Then on to the next sentence…

    I know that this isn’t universal, and there are some people who really enjoy the editing process. I remember meeting one writer as a kid who said that she usually rewrote at least twice before sending in her “first draft,” and I read an interview with another who compared editing to redecorating the mansion you just built. But for me, at least right now, it’s miserable.

    As far as the “steps” of sending out a draft go, I’m one of those who let’s it sit, then does a read-through and corrections before sending it to the Betas. I figure it’s both courteous and makes the whole process more efficient; the Betas can give a lot better feedback if they aren’t wondering whether these two random characters with the same common last name are related or trying to decide if there was a reason that Michael suddenly turned into Frank for three chapters before turning back into Michael.

  3. I do almost no editing. I proofread, but I tend to rewrite and write simultaneously, so that when I get to the end, what’s on the page is the first, last, and only draft.

    1. I do the same. Usually some details get added (since I tend to write too lean), or interstitial scenes appear (since I write out of order) but by the time it hits the page it’s already been through both the writing and editing sides of my brain, and is essentially final draft. So there are no rewrites or revisions, and ‘editing’ is really more tidying up.

      I’ve found that editing on the fly also makes the writing process easier, because having the right words helps generate and guide what follows. And it’s largely the habit of noticing what you actually wrote _as_ you write it.

  4. I looooooove editing other people’s stuff. My own…comes and goes. Depends on how long I’ve let it mellow.

  5. Revising – what you do the day after you wrote it, smoothing out obvious flaws and filling in blanks that you left because you were writing so quickly.

    Editing – fixing plot holes, tics, adding foreshadowing, and the major work to repair problems as well as copy-editing.

    I am of the school of write – let sit fallow for a while – return – send to alphas and betas – re-work – publish.

  6. “My own style is, I’m told, a little unusual. I edit as I’m writing.”

    Yep. Me too. Because I’m following along behind the voices in my head with a camera, trying to capture the action. If I get off track, or have a character saying something they wouldn’t say, I have to fix it. Sometimes right as soon as it comes off the keyboard, sometimes later.

    Who said having voices in your head was a bad thing, anyway? ~:D

  7. “Is editing the real hard work of the writing process?”

    No way. Cover art is the hardest part for me so far. But things are looking up a little, here at Phantom Northern Command. Found some great models at GrabCad, we’ll see how that goes.

  8. I used to hate editing . . . but then I started seeing how I was taking that frustratingly imperfect version of the vision in my brain, and smoothing it out and filling it in and turning it into something great. Not that it didn’t need copy editing and another run trough by the Betas.

    I guess I have Alpha readers as well, who point out a lot of problems that need fixing or explanation pretty much as I write. They used to be Beta readers, but I’ve lucked out with a group that are really good, and haven’t run screaming from the raw, fresh off the fingers stuff. Yet.

    And a large part of that is that by this process I’m training my subconscious about how to write even better. So the really, really fun bits of original writing are leaving fewer plot holes and maybe even fewer misspelling than before.

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