So you’ve completed your first draft? Great work!!! The work however does not end there because right when you think you’ve finished comes one of the most key, and at times terrifying, parts of writing…EDITING!!! No writer in the world writes perfectly the first time. Sometimes it can take a million drafts and rewrites to get it into shape and even then it never feels like enough. There are many keys to learning what to edit and what to keep such as reading groups, the inner critic, and lastly self-censorship. If you’ll just bear with me, I can show you what I do to make sure that I am able to edit effectively.
I- Reading Groups – Finding the Right Balance
Though writers are often portrayed as stereotypical loners, if they don’t have other people to turn to they can become a sobbing pile of neurosis. It really helps you to know what is good and bad in your work to have a few objective readers who can look at your work and tell you flat out what works and what doesn’t. The hard part is that you need to find people who can give you constructive criticism but who also aren’t going to tell you everything you write is golden because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. To form a useful and productive writing group you need to find people who are going to tell you the truth and who aren’t going to give everything either a blanket approval or rejection. It’s also a good idea to grow some thick skin. Criticism, even when it’s constructive, can be really hard to hear sometimes. If you worked really hard on one particular piece that you think is really good and you get really attached to it, when it gets any criticism you run the risk of getting defensive. If you get too defensive you run the risk of keeping weak material in your work. When you get criticism, don’t freak out just keep an open mind.
II- The Inner Critic- Help from Within
Whether or not you are a writer, a lot of the times in life you find that YOU are your own biggest critic. For writers, this voice usually pops up and makes snide comments about what they’ve just written such as “how could anyone write anything so stupid”, “there’s no way that character would ever do that” and of course the ever popular “and you call yourself a writer”. There are two dangers related to the “inner critic” and both have the capacity to destroy your literature. First, if you listen to you inner critic all the time you will end up hating everything you write because you will automatically assume that it’s garbage. Second, if you never listen to your inner critic you will end up automatically loving everything you write, even if it’s not well written, simply because you wrote it. That means you run the risk of keeping a lot of bad material in your work. The solution is simple; listen to your Inner Critic sometimes because sometimes it’s right.
III- Self-Censorship- Learning to Play the Game
When I say self-censorship I’m not talking about the FCC or the “man” bringing the hammer down and trying to shut down your creativity. I am talking about you as the author being able to tailor your own work to suit different audiences. It’s not about taking down censorship, it’s about learning how to push past it and still produce quality work. Also, if they want you to make a cut that will totally destroy the meaning or purpose of your piece then that particular place probably isn’t the best outlet for your work. Censorship might not seem like it really belongs in something as creative as writing, but if you as the writer don’t think about it in some respect, especially if you want your piece to be published or performed, you’ll never get in the door. You have to look into the other kinds of work that the company or magazine has come out with. If they mostly publish work that’s so clean it squeaks, then they are not a good bet to publish something with bad language or sexual content. They will shoot down your work and most likely, depending on the organization, not trust you to censor yourself. Here’s a great tip: Save multiple copies of your work. I usually write plays, so whenever I write one I always save at least one original uncensored copy. Then I can edit for content depending on the theatre, or school, or playwriting competition I am submitting it to that way I always have that uncensored copy to start from.
“No author dislikes to be edited as much as he dislikes not to be published.” – J. Russell Lynes
The greatest tip anyone can give you about editing is to not worry about it until you have to. If you freak yourself out about it too soon you will only succeed in driving yourself insane. At first just breath, relax and write your story.
Exercise of the Day:
For this exercise I am going to give you two characters, a setting, and a conflict. You need to take the three little pieces I give you and write a scene. Now this can be a drama, a comedy a thriller. It can be whatever you are in the mood to make it.
Character A- a 35 year old mime
Character B- a 45 year old detective
Setting- an art gallery
Conflict- someone is trapped
Have fun with this and I will see you next time!