Learning the Hard Way: Editing is Critical
Please welcome guest blogger, Scott Bartlett, with a post about the importance of editing.
It took me a couple novels to get used to the idea that writers also have to be editors. (In fact, they should be editors more frequently than they’re writers, but I’ll get to that a little later.)
I wrote my first novel in high school. It took me months to write, and I remember the moment I finished the final page very clearly.
It was an anticlimactic moment. I typed the last word and then scrolled through my completed manuscript. I considered what the characters had said and done and where the story had ended up.
“This stinks,” I said to myself. “This is utter bile, and must be read by no one.”
But I didn’t know what to do about that. I closed the Word document, and I went to eat supper. I’ve never returned to that book. I didn’t even give it a name.
A year or so later, eighteen days before a competition deadline, inspiration struck, and I decided to turn some short stories I’d written into a novel called Royal Flush. I abandoned my social life, writing at a rate of 10-15 pages a day. The writing came easier than anything else I’ve written, with the exception of one short story I wrote in grade eleven.
I finished it 6 AM the day of the deadline, and I sent it off. “Another novel complete,” I said to myself.
I didn’t win the competition. I didn’t make the shortlist, either. And when I received my manuscript back, I opened it, only to find it rife with errors. Spelling errors. Grammar errors. Continuity errors. Many of them right on page one.
This was not a professional effort—this was the work of an amateur!
I realized I still had a lot of work to do. At least 90% of the work, in fact, remained to be done.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to make this journey alone. I’ve been fortunate enough that many people have taken an interest in my writing, and I would estimate that over 100 people read Royal Flush during its various stages of pre-publication. That includes friends, family, coworkers, and users of Authonomy.com, all who provided valuable feedback. You might say I crowd-sourced a significant amount of the editing.
I always request honest feedback from anyone who reads my work, assuring them I can take it. Writing success requires that you first develop thick skin — rhino skin, I’ve heard it called. Since the only useful feedback is the honest kind, you need to invite it from everyone who reads your work.
I recommend cultivating a small group of people with whom you’re comfortable sending first drafts for proofreading and constructive criticism. Fellow writers make very good first readers, but non-writer friends can too, and even non-writer moms. (Despite the prevailing wisdom against getting feedback from your mother, mine has proven to be an honest critic of my work, and she’s always among the first to read it.)
In the end, I went through 10 drafts of Royal Flush. And guess what? Since releasing it, I’ve found some more mistakes.
But it’s not about eliminating a book’s every last flaw, because that’s impossible. No — proper editing is about drastically reducing the probability that your readers will get yanked unceremoniously from the world of your story by a glaring error that could easily have been fixed.
About the Author: Scott Bartlett has been writing fiction since he was fifteen. His recently released novel, Royal Flush, is a recipient of the H. R. (Bill) Percy Prize.