You Can’t Edit a Blank Page

jodi picoult

They say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. We can say the same thing about writing: it’s better to write badly than to write nothing at all.

Jodi Picoult offers some insight that summarizes this idea in a clear, concise manner:

“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

Writing is a craft, not a science. There will be days when everything we write ends up in the recycle bin. There will be days when we have to rewrite every single word. On rare days, every word we type will be golden.

But most of the time, our best writing is achieved through a process of editing.

The Secret to Success

The secret to success for many writers is revision: the grueling do-overs, the painstaking edits, the nit-picky tweaks, and the total overhauls.

Most first drafts are garbage. That’s why we call them “rough drafts.” We sand and polish these drafts, over and over, until they are smooth and shining.

I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words (probably millions of words) that had to be thrown away. And I’ve written millions more that I’ve had to edit and rewrite. And I’ve coached writers through the drafting and editing processes. I’ve learned that the willingness to edit differentiates writers who publish their work from hobbyists who never seem to finish anything.

So give yourself permission to write badly, but then force yourself to do the hard work of revising, so you can produce a final draft that shines.

How much time do you spend editing? Do you find editing to be painstaking or pleasurable? How often do you rescue mediocre pages and buff them to polished perfection? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment.

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

Quote: Goodreads
Image: Media Wiki

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


8 Responses to “You Can’t Edit a Blank Page”

  1. Natalie says:

    I think this quote is so important. I’m writing a novel for NaNoWriMo and I think it’s so bad. I’ll just have to remind myself that I can edit and improve bad writing. 🙂

  2. Yvonne Root says:

    You picked a good one, Melissa. Even if your focal point for writing is a blog or something with only 140 characters, you can’t subtract anything from nothing.

  3. Tanya van Hasselt says:

    It’s staggering how long it takes to get rid of those faults in our work – lazy sentences, repetitions, ungraceful phrasing, over-writing, confused meaning etc. Just when you think you’ve done rather well and polished the manuscript to your satisfaction, you have another look and discover more nasties … It’s as if they take turns in hiding or are somehow camouflaged.

    But does there come a point when the best is the enemy of the good and that we might need to just stop and accept that we can’t make our manuscript any better? For it seems we can go on pruning for ever. We will never dare to publish anything if we feel it has to be entirely perfect …

  4. Tonya says:

    You make a great point. I tend to hold myself back from writing because I fear that I’ll write something crappy. I’m also thinking about doing NaNoWriMo this year and that has been one of by worries but I may as well take the plunge, have my fun, and figure out how to fix my novel afterwards.