#Editing Forward

How many times have you groaned about having to go ‘back’ and edit a piece of work? And yet all writing is rewriting. I’m fortunate that for the most part I enjoy editing. In fact I often view it as a way of ‘keeping in touch’ with my work when there’s not a lot of time. Edit a short passage – even a sentence – rather than wait for the 2 hr stretch that won’t come along so easily – and it keeps your mind from losing the plot so to speak. Makes it easier to get started the next time you come back to the work. In short I’m a big advocate of little and often. But hey, no one’s perfect, and I can get ground down and see editing as something that’s dragging me back, stopping me moving forward. But no more. This afternoon I had an epiphany!

Today is the start of British Summertime. The clocks went forward – which is what prompted my train of thought. It’s been a lovely weekend in Brighton, on the south coast of England, and yesterday I went down to the seafront. It could have been the start of summer. The stripy deckchairs were out, seaside kitsch was back on sale – bags of shells, flip-flops, small containers of shrimps and half shells of freshly caught crab. Men had taken off their shirts, women wore bikinis – generally a lot of pale skin that hadn’t seen a stroke of sun for many months.  There were even some people with a couple of toes in the water. And not the hardy 365 days a year swimmers.

The Wurlitzer carousel, built in 1888 has been reassembled into its circle, though when I was there at 10.30 the horses were still wrapped in a giant tent of tarpaulin. There was a sense of emergence in the air, a new season, a new beginning.

It was only today when I sat down to do a bit of editing, secretly wanting to press on with where I’d left off, that I realised the problem was that I was looking at editing from the wrong perspective. Editing is not going back but going forward. As you may have seen in my last post I’ve changed the title of my first novel to ‘Radio Echo’. I’ve also recently re-edited the first three chapters (rewrite 28?). Both things have been very positive in my approach to the work. When you edit a section, it’s done to make it better. You might be approaching it with some feedback from other people, or with merely a keener eye from yourself. But the chances are very good that you’re going to make the work better. So in what way is that ‘going back’? The answer is it’s not. It’s moving forward.

I’m not being Pollyannaish about this, it’s simply a fact. You are moving your work forward every time you edit. There is no going back about it. So if we keep this in mind, then maybe it will help to take the groan out of having to edit. When you’re sitting down to edit a 60-100,000w bit of work, it’s going to be more than a quick ten-minute task. Inevitably there’ll come a point – or several points, where you feel jaded, bored – whatever you want to call it. But more often than not, we’re editing smaller chunks – a line, a paragraph, or a couple of chapters. All of this is moving the work forward, which is a good thing. To be a writer you have to enjoy rewriting. That’s the fact of the matter. If you don’t, then you’ll rarely get past one edit without it being an unpleasant gut-wrenching task. It’s impossible to edit everything as you go along. The work needs distance. Then you move forward. You edit.

I hope that looking at it as editing forward, rather than going back to edit is of some help to those of you who dislike the task. We all have different writing habits, methods, rituals that work for each one of us. How do you approach your editing? Are there ways you make it go faster or are more economical with your time?

Let me know what you’re approach is, bad habits you’d like to get out of or any good habits you want to share.

I’d love to hear from you!




  1. Thanks Kathy, wise words.

    Having just about reached the end of my fourth draft or big edit, I am definitely feeling quite jaded, but in general I prefer editing to writing fresh words. It’s when I really feel the sentences come alive, and polishing them can be a joy. I am at the point now where I have swept through my manuscript so many times that I have lost sight of what I’m reading, so it’s about time to take a break and let someone else read it, even though I know it’s not finished. That’s a hard thing to do – to hand it over with faults. But I need some fresh eyes, and hopefully after a good gap of time, my own eyes will be fresh too.

    • Thanks so much for your comments Becky – I love the perspective of making the sentences come alive and ‘polishing them’ – great phrase. Like you say, editing can be better than writing knew words – less stressful, and for some people easier. But you’re right – with your work it’s time to take a break. It’s extremely hard to hand it over when you know it’s not perfect. I suppose it’s also like a painting – when is it finished? My mentor used to say knowing when to stop was the hardest part of the work. I can certainly see the comparison of the potential for overpainting and overwriting. In your case I think your perfectionism shows in a good way and has paid off in producing a great book. I shall look forward to The Liars Chair coming to press when the time comes.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Editing ForwardMy Profile

  2. I love this philosophy (even though I also enjoy editing). My approach to writing anything starts with prewriting in my head. In fact, I usually write a first draft of just about anything in my head while running errands, doing housework, taking showers, cooking dinner… you get the idea. Then I sit down and just do a brain dump; by it’s nature, a brain dump requires much editing, but by editing I can go back to what I’ve written and savor it a bit more. I’m also found of letting what I write “sit” before I edit. I think I developed this approach when I wrote my Masters Thesis (which is dry, painful writing as many reading this may know).

    I will say you’re edit forward approach is now part of my process! Looking forward to approaching the next written work I edit with this in mind.
    Laura G. recently posted..23 Books (& Movies)My Profile

    • Thanks Laura. I love your idea about having the draft in your mind while going about the rest of your life – and then the brain dump – new term for me – a variation of shitty first draft in a way. But I agree it needs to simmer for a while before it comes out. I tend to do that before I’m going to sleep , hoping it’ll subconsciously come to me.(I’m still hoping!!) But I think really the part about letting it ‘sit’ is also a great habit to maintain – though I know sometimes I’m too impatient . Great suggestions – thanks so much for sharing them with everyone.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Editing ForwardMy Profile

  3. Great post! I look at editing as the polishing process, each edit gives the work a little more shine, the sandpaper a finer grain, until a polished gem emerges.

    • Hey Nancy – that’s a fantastic way of looking at it. You pretty much succinctly said in one sentence what it took my whole blog to say. Perhaps you should be my editor?!
      Actually it’s interesting that both you and Becky used the term polish – I like the 3 dimensional connotation that gives it too.
      Thank you for the comment.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Editing ForwardMy Profile

  4. Noel O'Reilly says

    Interesting post, I wonder how much of the writing process actually amounts to editing in reality? I tend to get things down any which way and then go back and build on it which is when I produce most of the stuff. That could be seen as editing. And a certain amount of editing probably goes on in your head even before you write anything down.

    • That’s a good point Noel – when does editing become writing and vice versa? I suppose the truth of the matter is it’s all one big ball of wax.
      Thanks v. much for the comment.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Editing ForwardMy Profile

  5. Exactly my sentiments! I’m so glad that you have expressed it so well here! The routine of my life is read, write, edit, and I love it. Sometimes people tell me I am a harsh editor but I take it in my stride.

    • OOh – a harsh editor – I like the sound of that! Occasionally I am, and when I am it feels good because that’s when I know I’ve made a good choice. But as you say it’s the constant cycle of read write and edit. Keep at it, and thanks for the comment.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Editing ForwardMy Profile

  6. A postive reflection for editing, thank you for flipping the coin on a negative task. Will share this with my son.. who is heading off to college and thinks editing his papers are a bore : D

  7. Agree with you A.K. that ediding is moving your work forward. It definitely is. Frequently have ideas and develop them to an article, then leave it and go back and edit it to improve it and then finally give it the final touch.

    Having said that though, there’s nothing worse than a sub editor ruining your work. The worst such incident that ever happened to me was Fortune magazine. Such subs really are the exception since they don’t move your work forward but have the opposite affect. Was embarrased about the article when I showed it to the government it was about. Wish I could have avoided them seeing it, but that was unfortunately not possible.
    Catarina recently posted..How to get your news in the mediaMy Profile

    • Hi Catarina – I can only imagine working with an editor you can’t agree on must be a nightmare. And especially when they have the last word and send it off without you’re approval. Thanks so much for the comment, which was coming from a different perspective than most people. Good luck with the next project.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Editing ForwardMy Profile

  8. I like your outlook on editing. To me, the writing starts with the thought of “what will be next”. English is not my first language. So there is always self doubt about the written words. Recently, my daughter, a high school student, agreed to do the final editing of my blog entries. She loves editing more than writing. For her editing is the final polishing of the work to make it more presentable.
    Bindhurani recently posted..Toronto ZooMy Profile

    • Hi Bindhurani – thank you for your comment. You definitely have an additional hurdle with editing, but I like your idea of thinking of editing in terms of ‘what will be next’. How fantastic you have a daughter who enjoys editing and is willing to help you. Sound like you make a great team.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Editing ForwardMy Profile

  9. I never thought about it before, but that’s a good point. The going back to edit is really just a moving forward to make your work better. Luckily, I’ve never seen editing as any big chore. I have more trouble getting started than going over my writing to improve it!
    Adrienne recently posted..Conflicting Reports Be Damned!My Profile

    • Thanks for the comment Adrienne. You’re really lucky not to see it as a chore. I don’t usually find starting a problem but if I do, then I do a free-write until something comes.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Editing ForwardMy Profile

  10. As someone who enjoys a flipped perspective, I appreciate editing forward. Goodness knows that the days I have before hitting the “publish” button…argh, the agony. But know that I know that I”m editing forward, I won’t agonize anymore, I’ll just hit “publish” when it’s ready.

    • Yes I know what you mean Coretta, about hitting the publish button. When I’m stressing about it too much that’s when I’m most likely to overwrite, or make some stupid mistake. I really appreciate your comments. Thank you.
      A.K.Andrew recently posted..Editing ForwardMy Profile