Are you sure you're Editing?


You know how, when you’re writing something, you go over it time and again, re-reading, changing and cutting it? Some people love this process and find it energising. Others get confused feel it’s a kind of required self-censorship which drags flights of fancy down to earth. 

“Editing” and “doing an edit” are terms sometimes used for this process, in writers’ groups, masterclasses and on social media. But, in my view, choosing a different term might be helpful.

First things first. 

The primary definition of “edit” is “to prepare written material for publication”. Secondary definitions are “be editor of (a newspaper or magazine) – eg ‘he edited the New Yorker’”, and, as a noun, “a change or correction made as a result of editing – eg ‘the edits required considerable time’.” 

So, here are some thoughts.

1/ Unless you’re certain that what you’re writing WILL BE and IS READY TO BE, published, it’s actually not appropriate to think about “editing” it.

2/ Unless you’re in charge of running a newspaper or magazine, you’re not an editor – and therefore shouldn’t be “editing”.

3/ Unless your work is at the editing stage (ie written to your own satisfaction) you shouldn’t be dealing with “edits” at all.

What you should be doing is writing.

Of course there’s an overlap between an editor’s work and a writer’s. Both tasks involve elements of what another dictionary definition of “edit” defines as “correcting, condensing, or otherwise modifying” text. 

But what’s important is to remind yourself that, as a writer, you’re correcting, condensing, or otherwise modifying all the time.

That’s what writing consists of. You think of something and attempt to express it in words, which you write down. Then you read what you’ve written and fiddle about to find ways of expressing it better. This isn’t about constraining what you’ve written (or, more importantly, what you want to say). It's about exploring, crafting and releasing it. 

Of course, if you’re happy to use the word “edit” for this part of the writing process, that’s fine. But if it ever feels like self-censoring, rather than releasing, please stop using it. Tell yourself, and everyone else, not that you’re editing but that you’re writing. 

And then work away, correcting, condensing and modifying, till you’ve found what you want to say, and you’ve said it to your own satisfaction. 


                      

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