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!