Editing and the Art of Zen

In many ways, writing is easy. Taking what you’ve churned out and making it beautiful? That’s the hard part. Ernest Hemingway said to write drunk and edit sober, and though I don’t necessarily think alcohol helps much, I can see his point.

Writing is this mythologised journey where we get to skip along millions of potential pathways, gamboling about like coffee-addled bunnies and building and destroying worlds like cruel and capricious gods

chuck is god

But editing takes those seemingly random outbursts and explorations, and wrangles them into a clear and cohesive whole. It’s the difference between a cheerful wander through a meadow, and a military action.

So what’s the secret to editing?

A basic Google search will show you about a billion answers, most utterly contradictory. Some people argue for writing a paragraph, editing it, and moving on. Others take the Nanowrimo approach, and edit a full draft rather than bits and pieces. Some say three different editing sessions, some multitask. Some say hard copy, some say screen edits.

You could spend a lifetime reading how-to guides without ever really cracking the code.

So let me save you (and myself) 50+ years of frustrated reading: do what works for you. Try styles that interest you, but if they don’t work, ditch them. Ignore the gurus that tell you that you must do things a certain way, because frankly, they’re not you. When you do read about editing (despite how frustrating it can be, it’s still quite helpful), take the bits that work for you, and ditch the rest. Sure, your favourite author might work best by sitting for three days straight, editing their manuscript with a gleeful kind of ruthlessness. But if small, targeted bursts of editing work best for you, then go with it. If you find you work best with a blue pen and a highlighter, do it.

In the end, the objective is to make your story the best it can possibly be. To do that, you need to find editing methods that work for you, and allow you to focus on actually reading and editing rather than trying to remember the steps of your process.

Happy editing!

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