I avoid editing my own work like I would a Tea Party convention. Well let me clarify, I edit my own work, but before I send it out, submit it, publish it or consider it otherwise finished I always need someone else to look at it (though that does not mean I always find someone). I am a big believer in the writing process and believe that any writer who is a professional or ‘serious writer’ is just as serious about revision as they are about writing something in the first place.
Everything that I write (and that matters to me) is my baby. Writing a piece is the creation, conception and birth of that baby. Revision is raising what you have given birth to (sorry apparently I have had kids on the brain lately). You need to be a part of the revision process and lead your piece down the right path (or let it lead you) until its full potential is realized.
For me, writing a manuscript is maddening and I think “once it is out, I’ll be good” and then once it is out I am exhausted. Unlike an actual child, I need to put it away for awhile before diving back in. I regroup, read, write other shorter pieces and live my life and then after a few weeks (more like four to six) I cautiously approach my manuscript, ready and not ready to start the revision process.
I go through a few sub drafts with each official draft. I go through it a few times, have someone like my husband read it or ask someone else their thoughts to a particular passage and go in chunks of several chapters. Then I do it again. Sit on it and go through it a final time. Now it is ready for a fellow reader, writer or peer to help me see what I cannot, both technically and as far as content is concerned. That is the life cycle of a single official draft, and of course each manuscript needs several drafts before it can be considered polished.
Writing may be art, but as a calling (I consider it more than merely a profession) it can be hell. Maddening, chaotic, I am a glutton for punishment, can’t eat, can’t sleep, need more coffee, bang my head against the table (well I visualize just that part, I don’t do head pain well) hell. And that is before you get to the low pay, rejection-filled and unstable (compared to other jobs) nature of being a writer fulltime. And yet it is so totally worth it. Don’t get me wrong, I meant everything I have said so far, but when it comes to writing I am a masochist and embrace writing for all of its harsh realities because I do not write to be rich or famous or respected or stable, and I certainly do not write because it is easy (see above).
Right now I am in the midst of my third official draft, perhaps fourth, of my manuscript. I have been through everything at least a dozen times. I started revising last fall and I am still catching mistakes, wrong words, awkward construction, passive voice, punctuation errors (and I know better) and typos. Why? Well, this is where what I said before comes in; you cannot be the sole editor of something you write. You should be the first editor and the final editor and you should certainly edit through every draft that the process produces, but if it is just you – be afraid. (I always am, any time I update my website or write a blog that I cannot have a friend take a quick glance over, I fight the urge to bite my nails. Luckily, I have never been a nail biter.)
There are two primary reasons that I believe every writer needs at least one other editor for anything they intend to publish, submit or otherwise seriously pursue.
- Your Eyes Are Lying.
Writers do not always see what they write, but what they intended to write. We know what we meant to say so when it comes to something silly like a sentence fragment, tense issues or the most likely issues, typos like if/of or it/is your eyes see what they want to see. They see what you ‘wrote’ and not what was actually written on the page. In certain cases a quick spell/grammar check will catch some of these things, but for the typos or if you overuse or misuse certain words, etc. good luck. Word processing softwares’ editorial tools will never take the place of an actual editor. I think every writer knows what I am talking about and has at least one horror story of catching a mistake after something was posted, sent or submitted. (Don’t worry, I feel your pain!)
- You Are Too Close To Your Baby
Have you ever met a parent who refuses to believe that their child has done something wrong? Parental love can often get in the way of seeing their child objectively in terms of behavioral issues, limitations or simply, “He said he didn’t do it and I believe him. What security tape? No, that just isn’t possible. You have the wrong boy.” When I write something that isn’t an update or for social media, but something that qualifies as serious, I have bled it out of me. I love it all, hate it all, can’t figure out what to keep, what to cut – it is all such amazing writing, every singular line has a WOW factor and yet it is all crap that no one would waste their time reading all at once. HELP! This is the most important reason (even more than the technical stuff) why you cannot afford to be the single parent, rearing your piece to its full potential.
This is the hardest part of the revision process for me. What stays and what goes because I am bonded to everything that is on the page and even the ‘easy cuts’ I second guess, at least initially. I put them aside and see how my piece works without them and if I see that it does, I still want to put them back! Writing is letting go.
We have been tricked into thinking that writing is a solitary profession, when writing is actually a series of collaborations. Don’t be the absentee parent who hands their manuscript off to an editor and says, “See you when you’re finished!” but don’t be the parent who tries to do it all either. Your manuscript will thank you for every other pair of eyes you allow it to experience before the day that it looks at you and says, “I’m done!”