Being a Good Writer Means Being a Good Editor

We, as writers, spend the bulk of our time considering how to write better. We attend workshops, go to conferences, watch TED Talks, and spend hours in hyperbolic time chambers training until our writing can reach the “next level.”

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Writing is, after all, what we do and hope to continue doing forever. At some point, however, writing alone simply won’t be enough. All the drafts in the world won’t be able to add the sparkle and shine that you and readers are looking for. When that realization strikes, in struts EDITING from outside. Grizzled from many a long fight over verb tensing and whether you should reorder three chapters in the middle that you really like as they are but don’t make sense, EDITING has returned to the picture for one simple reason:

It is needed. You need it. I need it.

The best writers are great editors.

Now, I recognize that there are many of you out there who don’t agree with that statement. “Christopher,” you say, “there are so many great writers who aren’t great editors. They just have great editors.”

To which I say: I wasn’t talking about “great” writers. I was talking about the best.

You’re right. Many, many wonderful writers are not the best of editors and have colleagues, friends, family, or industry-appointed professionals to make up for that deficiency. But there is great power in being a strong editor of your own work, before (and after) those other people enter the scene (literally and/or figuratively). Third party perspectives are vital to the creation of terrific writing, but those perspectives can only be relied on so much. There are some things that only you can effectively edit, and if you haven’t taken the time to build your editorial skills until then, you’ll be doing your own work a disservice.

Let me paint a picture for you (with words).

You’re a published NYT (and international) bestselling author. Your works have been made into successful feature films and TV shows. Everyone knows your characters’ names.

Awesome, right?

In fact, you’ve hit the point where publishers no longer question you, trusting instead that your phenomenal ability to basically print money will hold true. Third party editing is minimized to the point of proofreading: finding typos but ignoring questions of pacing, plot, characterization, etc. In short, what you write gets published as it is.

What power you wield!

But from there comes the problem: through over-reliance on those third party editorials, your self-editorial skills have either atrophied or were never fully developed in the first place. Certainly, you can bulk them up to snuff, but this isn’t the time. The publisher wants the book now. And you want it out there. So you do your best, and it turns out alright.

Which it does. But I promise you that a lot of readers (especially those that write) will notice something different about that book and any others done in the same way. The pacing for such manuscripts is often looser, characterizations more vague or (flip side) insanely detailed, and plot less clear that would be ideal.

I could name books where I think this occurred, but that wouldn’t really serve a point. What I’m attempting to explain is that even in the scenario where we, as writers, have achieved ultimate success (commercially, at least), being able to edit our own work is vital. Likewise, as writers frantically aspiring for that success, being able to edit our own work is vital. At any stage of the journey between those two points or beyond, being able to edit our own work is vital.

And that means building the skillset. There are many ways to do so, and I intend to write several posts in the future talking about editorial processes, tips, and tricks (based on my experience as a creative writer, master tutor, and managing editor ). But to leave you with a little something today:

  • Don’t be afraid of editing your own work
  • Treat editing like a conversation with yourself: asking questions and providing honest answers
  • The best way to build editing skill is to edit, so offer to edit the work of writer friends
  • Don’t beat yourself up

Editing is not the time or place for self-flagellation. It’s not an excuse to be mean to yourself or give into the insecurities in your head that make you feel like you’re a terrible writer. Editing is about becoming ever more. About taking, refining, and beautifying the beauty you’ve already made. The beauty you already are. Don’t let fear wedge itself in there and make you feel like less.

Stay tuned for more on editing soon! You can read more posts about writing techniques (and everything else!) at my main page HERE.

You can do this. Don’t ever give up.

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