When it comes to writing, it seems that editing is something everyone struggles with. In particular, new writers who perhaps don’t have the experience or the support system that the more established ones do.
I’m in the middle of editing the first draft of a novel at the moment, and I’m not finding it easy. Each time I sit down to work, the self-doubt kicks in.
There are five reasons in particular I find editing so hard:
I’m not creating something, I’m cutting it down
The best moments as a writer come when you’re caught up in the story and the words are flowing furiously onto the page. You’re inspired, you’re there, inside this world you’ve created.
Editing doesn’t tend to be such an inspired process. In fact, a lot of it is spent combing through your manuscript with a red pen, or track changes, picking out sentences that don’t work or passages that add nothing to the story.
It’s especially disheartening cutting out chunks of prose that you’re proud of. Sometimes it has to be done, but that doesn’t make it a pain free process.
I know where I want to go, but I don’t know how to get there
Where my novel is now and where I would like it to be are two very different places. A finished, sleek, well-written novel seems so far away, I often wonder if it’s a goal I’ll ever be able to reach.
Of course, editing is all about breaking the work into stages. But it can be overwhelming to look at the manuscript as a whole and figure out exactly what steps you need to take to improve it.
I don’t know if my writing is any good
Every time I reread my prose my opinion of it changes; sometimes better, sometimes worse. Usually worse.
The more you write and edit and submit your work to competitions or share it with other people, the more you get a sense of what works and what doesn’t.
But there are still those days when all perspective goes out of the window and that passage you’ve loved for months suddenly falls apart in front of your eyes. It’s trite, or over written, or cliché. It’s boring, too emotional, or it adds nothing to the action. Maybe it’s too similar to something you’ve read in another book. Or even worse, maybe it’s not similar enough to the writer you most admire and whose style you long to emulate.
It never feels like I’m making big enough changes
When I’m editing, I feel like my focus tends to be on copy editing and proofreading. I spend time scouring the text line by line, changing words, adding commas or tweaking the syntax.
These are important, sure, but they’re window dressing, polish for an already tightly constructed story, with characters who the reader can relate to.
No matter how many times I add extra scenes or adjust plotlines, it never feels like the changes I’m making are enough.
My first drafts are fairly neat, so I don’t tend to tear them apart and start over when it comes to draft two. But every time I read about another writer doing just that, I feel that worry creeping through me.
The more I work, the more I recognise the flaws in my writing
One of the most frustrating things about editing is discovering what your own particular writing faults are.
In my current novel, I’m conscious of the sheer number of times I used phrases like ‘she turned’ or ‘he smiled’. Focusing on those details early on only makes it harder to deconstruct the story and rebuild it in a stronger form.
Hopefully the more I write, the more my editing will improve. But at the moment, it’s a bit of a drag. Sometimes I’d rather be writing something new than fighting with something I’ve already drafted.
So writers, what do you find the hardest when it comes to editing your work?