The Quiet Words: Week Eight
The art of editing
The final flourish
This week, you’ll all have received your work back from me with what I hope you’ll find are encouraging and helpful notes to help you develop and edit your own work going forward.
I want to take a moment here, in our very last week, to touch upon the importance of editing.
Editing is the final polish, but it can be hard to do when you’ve been consumed by writing for so long. So whether it’s a first chapter, a short story or a draft blog post the first step in editing is to let it sit awhile. Give your words and yourself time to breathe. Mull it over, or better yet try not to think about it at all. And then come back to it but only when you’re ready.
It could be a few hours later if it’s a pressing blog post you need to publish soon or it might be as long as a couple of months if it’s a manuscript you’ve worked tirelessly on for what feels like forever. Either way, allow yourself a pause. You need to come back to your work with rested eyes, fresh eyes, in order to be able to see - objectively - what works and what doesn’t work.
How do you know what to cut and what to keep?
Here’s when you look at pacing. When you’re in the thick of it and you’re writing constantly, it is easy to lose sight of the speed at which your writing is developing. Often, you’ve probably written far too much and slowed everything right down when it doesn’t need to be.
Some rare people write sharply to begin with but almost everyone requires an edit. Brevity is not my strong point. When I write my weekly long reads for my blog, I always need a quick but thorough edit because there’s almost always far too much detail in them. So every week, before I hit publish, I go back, trawl through and cut the irrelevant stuff out.
Approach editing on a need-to-know basis; that is, ask yourself if your reader really needs to know what you’re telling them or if it’s simply too much information. If your reader gains nothing useful that helps them navigate your prose, then cut. If on the other hand, those words enhance a mood, move the story on, set a scene, tell us something insightful and meaningful that hasn’t already been said before - then they stay.
I find the best way to approach editing is to set yourself a tight deadline and make yourself do it. I have friends that have spent years editing their manuscripts; years that they could have spent pitching to agents and publishers instead, had they made the cuts a little quicker and a lot more ruthlessly. Give yourself too much time and you’ll dilly-dally over edits and talk yourself out of most of the cuts.
Of course, the right cuts shouldn’t need to be talked out of. The right cuts will make sense, and you will want to do them.
And by the end, when you read your work back, you will find your words sit sharper and read so much more smoothly, without losing any of the meaning at all. The glorious satisfaction that follows, the one that leaves you feeling warm and heady and, yes, proud of yourself, is how you know you’ve written something amazing.
How to edit like an editor
Be objective There’s a reason why a book author will always have an editor - because it’s so hard to cut words you have written yourself. It’s why journalists have editors too. If you practice editing, you begin to realise what needs cutting and what needs rewriting. Put into good use everything I talked about in Week 4 under the module Read With A Writer’s Eye. Apply the same critiques to yourself, about what works and what doesn’t work, as if you were reading someone else’s words and not your own.
Know your grammar In some ways, editing is a practical chore but it must be done. Make sure your spelling and your grammar is on point. Know the difference between its and it’s. I use and can recommend this online style guide because it’s where I worked and basically grew up as a writer, but feel free to search for a guide that suits you too.
Be honest Do any of the words bore you? Why? How you can change them so that they don’t? If they bore you, do they even need to be there at all? Probably not.
Read aloud And be sure to listen to the rhythm of the words (as I mentioned in Week 7’s cheatsheets). If you stumble on a phrase or an adjective, then it’s misplaced and shouldn’t be there.
Cut the background Does your writing start where the story really begins, or have you accidentally written a prequel first? Writers often subconsciously end up with accidental prequels, mostly because they need to figure out for themselves what has happened before the story starts. That’s what a draft is. You could probably cut entire reams of what you think is your beginning - and then start your story where the action really is instead, which is far more interesting to read.
My final words to you
And with that, it’s time for me to I leave you.
I’m so proud to have been a part of your creative journey these last eight weeks and I’m beyond moved that you chose to explore this path with me. I hope that you can look back and see how far you’ve come - both in terms of knowing yourself, finding your still, uncovering your hidden creativity and, of course, writing creatively.
If there’s one thing you take forward with you from this course, it’s simply knowing and believing that you are creative, that you have creativity inside of you, and it is always there. It is knowing that you are worthy of exploring that creativity. Any time you start to feel lost, tune into yourself through morning pages or your journal. Know that you can connect with yourself, and that when you do, amazing things happen.
It’s not easy, fitting in this sort of course around daily routines, and I’m so proud of you all for sticking with it. I am grateful that you trusted me enough to read the work you produced for your writing project and I hope you find value in the notes and feedback I’ve sent to you. I hope these notes might help you with your own writing journey. And if you’d like to continue on a more personal writing journey with me, then please do get in touch so we can talk more.
Of course, there’s no homework this week, but I would really love for you to share your pieces with each other, so that you may all read each other’s work and lose yourself in each other’s writerly words. So please stay in touch, stay inspired. Keep reading, keep writing. Drop me a line to let me know how your writing is going. I would always love to hear from you.
And remember to keep an eye open to the wonders of daily life that might otherwise pass you by - because one day, you might sprinkle those wonders into a story you have to tell, shimmering through the pauses in your paragraphs, sending little sparks flying to your readers, everywhere.
Course Curriculum Contents:
Thank you for being a part of The Quiet Words. I suspect that like me you will appreciate a break from the screen. So please feel free to download The Quiet Words in its entirety to print out, refer back to and keep as you continue your writing journey. All I ask is that you keep this download link just for you.
I have poured my heart into The Quiet Words and written what I feel is a way through the noise. I would love to know what you have thought of it and how the course may have helped you. Please let me know - you can email me anytime at email@example.com.