Writers Abroad Blog
Edit. Edit. Edit. Or not.
Posted by Jill Brown

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as writing a page or several pages of stream-of-consciousness prose. Or poetry, I guess, though I’ve little experience there. Releasing the creative juices in that fashion leaves me with a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Sometimes. But then what? Edit.

Reading it over straight away can leave me with the impression that it should be left as it is. Raw. Straight from the heart. Put the piece aside for a few days and glaring errors jump off the page.

Even so, I believe this kind of writing should be treated with silk gloves. It’s all too easy to kill the original spark of creativity that sets us off and kill the very essence of the writing. Plot, story, theme, characterisation can all be worked on, but not the essence. That precious unknown quantity.

So how much do we edit? Personally, I go for the usual suspects: grammar and punctuation, overuse of adjectives and adverbs, finding a stronger verb, saying the same thing twice, using the correct word, over-writing, making sure I’ve started in the right place. Often I delete the first paragraph completely. The same goes for the ending. And so it goes, on and on and on – ad infinitum – until my head is dizzy and I lose the will to live.

I read of one author – interviewed in Writing Magazine – who said that he’d edited/rewritten his novel 50 times before it was ready for publication. No surprise then that it took him 15 years to write! Authors lucky enough to have publishers and deadlines wouldn’t have that luxury (probably the wrong choice of word). In any case I’d be sick to death with the sight of a novel long before I’d reread it 50 times.

I write mostly short fiction and have been guilty of editing a story to within inches from its grave.  Because rereading two or three thousand words is easy, the temptation is there to edit and edit and edit. I’ve done this with travel articles as well, but luckily when commissioned the deadline kept editing within reason as time ran out. Competitions also have deadlines, the problem is if you miss one there’s usually another one with a later closing date. And so the editing continues.

I don’t know if any of you get this sudden moment of truth, when a little genie whispers, ‘Stop! Send it off.’ Enough is enough. I can tell I’ve gone a bit OCD when I start turning the verbs I’ve changed in the story back to the originals. Aargh. Stop. Stop. Stop.

Some articles or blogs I’ve read on the subject suggest you can never rewrite enough. On the other hand, here’s a quote from Margaret Atwood: ‘If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.’

It probably won’t surprise you after reading this that I’ve hardly edited this blog at all. My little genie whispered ‘Post or we’ll be here all night!’

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