To loosely paraphrase Hemingway, I realised a while back that I’m a lousy writer. Fortunately, I’m a more than passable rewriter.
I probably wouldn’t swap.
Finishing the first draft of anything is a great feeling, but the end is really just the start. As a general rule of thumb, I spend as much time (if not more) correcting my writing to make it less flabby, than I do writing the original article in the first place. Yes, sometimes even for these blog posts, though you probably wouldn’t believe it.
Editing isn’t only there to correct my many hilarious grammatical howlers, though – for me it involves switching loads of bits around to form a coherent structure, mercilessly cutting out superfluous words and whole sentences, and fiddling to the point where it genuinely feels like the article would collapse into a gibbering mess if I removed any more of it.
And that’s what I’ve been doing tonight. The first draft of an article that may end up… er… somewhere (with a fair wind) was double my word length guidelines, and seemingly untouchable. “But I need all of it!” I moaned inwardly. I’m such a drama queen – of course I didn’t. “But longer is better!” I told myself. Fnarr.
There certainly is a point where once good pieces can collapse under too much editing pressure, but while I think a longer version could have merit, it’s not the first draft version that sat on Microsoft Word all afternoon. Some nips and tucks that would have been rather nice to leave in notwithstanding, the chopping and changing helped a lot. It’s easy for me to forget that I’m a hideous overwriter.
One draft of my novel Certainty got up to 130,000 words, which was utterly ridiculous. A full, take-no-prisoners check-through later, it was down by over 20,000 of the blighters. You see, I may grumble about doing it, but the truth is that I actually rather like editing. My first drafts of everything are so shocking that it’s a lovely feeling to mould a pile of utter shit into something that I’m actually vaguely proud of.
So what’s my advice when it comes to editing? Don’t be precious. Write something. Go away for a few hours. Then kill it. And then kill it again.