READING the works of a well-known and established author recently, I found myself sub-consciously editing it. How ridiculous! How arrogant! But I couldn’t help it: there were far too many words, far too many overly long sentences and far too many gratuitous adjectives. Well, get me, I thought. I could have written this. Hadn’t of course, and there’s the rub, so I carried on reading, trying to lock my imaginary editor in a metaphorical room, leaving me to get on with the pleasure of this particular plot.
But I’m too easily distracted. Perhaps I could be an editor, I thought. Perhaps I, the great Me, the best writer the world has never seen, could buy one of those Editor Program things, install it with the help of a five year old then ta-dah – a whole new career was burgeoning before my very eyes. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?! Oh – wait – I had – but thankfully realised before it was too late what a bad idea it was. After all, I’d never get any of my own work written, would I?!
At the risk of teaching those reading how to suck eggs, this is my top five of how to edit your own work:
- Do not cherish each word you have ever written. If you cannot bear to let go, copy your work, save it entitled ‘My Book – Edit 1’ or something suitable that appeals to you. That way you will have a clone of The Original (the one that you think doesn’t need any editing or spell-chicking).
- Set-to without apprehension fear or remorse with that speedy DELETE button. Choose a sentence, then zip zap zop – delete. Save the resulting trimmed sentence or paragraph straight away so you can’t Un-do. Because that will be the Un-doing of your editing. Imagine you’re on a diet and you’re doing really well – 8 pounds down and things are feeling less dumpy. You go to the fridge/bar/takeaway and WHAM – all your fat editing undone in an instant. Edit, save, walk away.
- Do not compare The Original with The Clone until you have edited an entire chapter – although I appreciate that some chapters may only be a few sentences long for the sake of creative impact. If this is the case…c’mon! You know what to do!
- Don’t get distracted adding new bits. Would a surgeon do that? I don’t think so. “Hello Mrs Jones. I’m doctor Smith and I’m here to take out your appendix but I might just add another pancreas while I’m in there. Just can’t help myself.”
Highlight – delete – save – move on.
- Stop believing that this bit or that bit is absolutely totally unequivocally intrinsic to the plot. It aint. 90,000 words? At least 20,000 of them are like nits: unwanted, unwelcome, and difficult to find. But boy, what a relief when you’ve got rid of them.
So, you’ve slogged through The Clone – now what? Well, compare it against The Original of course. A word of warning though – it may be wise to change the text colour of the entire Clone before you do, as one document can look remarkably like another when placed next to each other.
And so, keep going – make Clone 1 your new original (is that even possible?) and work from that. Then, when it comes to editing, save it as Clone 2 and on you go. Clone 2 may throw up some more ideas you hadn’t even been aware you might think of whilst you were nursing The (original) Original. By the time you get to Clone 8, you’ll be so far removed from The Original, and habitually slashing your own work it won’t hurt any more – ie: it will become easier every time.
It was the best I could do!!