The Dangers of Editing

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From Writer Unboxed:

I edit books for a living, so I know it’s true that writing is rewriting. But I’ve sometimes seen clients fall into editing traps that can cause real damage to their work. Although some simply waste valuable writing time, others get so caught up in the wrong kind of editing that they either lose sight of or actually blot out their vision of the book.

Before we get into these traps, a caveat. Every writer has their own approach to writing, including rewriting. There are plenty of exceptions to everything I say here. So unless you recognize yourself in the problems I describe, feel free to ignore me.

Do not start editing too soon. I’ve written before about how all the elements of a story interconnect with one another to form a complex ecosystem. If you start delving into detailed rewrites before your story, with all of its interconnected character and plot threads, is in place, then you are probably not doing all the editing you need. You cannot know how a character’s voice should sound until you know who they become. Nor can you judge the importance of descriptive details or the relative weight of different events until you know where your story is going. And you may waste time editing scenes that you later cut.

It’s tempting to jump into the editing too early. You may have reached a critical juncture in the plot where you’re not sure what happens next, so you dive back into the weeds of what you’ve written so far, looking for a way forward. Sometimes this works. But more often, the editing is just a distraction. It’s better to buckle down and finish your first draft before you start delving into the details.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

4 thoughts on “The Dangers of Editing”

  1. Yet another arrogant writing guru who proclaims that all writing should be treated the same way. Writing commercial fiction, and especially category fiction, is not like producing content for any of the other twelve publishing industries. And even within fiction and category fiction, there are obvious — indeed, compelling — exceptions. Consider, for example, a pastiche or satire that must both stand for itself and properly invoke the source materials for mockery (Don Quixote as to Amadis of Gaul; farther down the seriousness scale, Bored of the Rings as to The Lord of the Rings, The Iron Dream as to a whole subgenre, even shorter pieces like “Adrift Off the Islets of Langerhans…”). Those are just easy examples of fiction that requires constant, and early, rewriting to maintain tone and referent integrity — or, as the case may be, sufficiently undermine them.

    It’s the pretense at universality that irritates me the most — especially coming from those with no apparent experience or vision outside their own tiny corner of the sandbox. The OP’s prescription is one, at most, of the nine and sixty ways to compose tribal lays (and I am very, very intentionally suggesting that one consider the flaws in the source of that aphorism right alongside the aphorism; but then, like Hans Grüber, I like to take full advantage of my classical education while taking over the Nakatomi Building for a while).

    N.B. I’ve been on the Dark Side of the Editorial Desk in a fairly wide range of the thirteen distinct publishing industries. The OP’s prescriptive comments (with their implication that “you’re an unsuccessful wannabe who’s doing it wrong if you don’t do it exactly like I say you must”) are even less applicable to most of them, including the three with the most aspiring authors.

  2. I completely disagree with the OP. There’s nothing like being in the weeds, while the story is fresh, to catch problems on a structural level. Some people do it after. That’s fine, too. But some of us do that while we’re writing, and it tends to work pretty well.

    That’s the problem with one-size-fits-all advice, though. It discourages people with different thought and writing processes from doing what works for them and their stories.

  3. I got more of a ‘this is how I do it’ than of ‘this is how everyone should do it’ flavor from the WU post.

    There is something about titles: This is what works is a catchier title than Some people work this way and you should consider it as a possibility.

    I’ve learned to insert all the waffling, and no longer get irritated at the clickbait titles.

    • I can buy that when one doesn’t choose one’s own title, as in commercial and periodical publishing. On one’s own website — where inability to fit into a specific space does not mean one will lose an ad or a few column-inches of copy — not so much.

      Put another way, it’s all well and good to criticize the marketing dorks who misrepresented one’s piece… until one finds those marketing dorks in the mirror.

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