Regardless of the genre they write or how long they’ve been at it, all the writers I’ve met have something in common. At one point or another, they’ve all told me that they hate editing.
I used to share the sentiment, a long time ago. Now I don’t see what the fuss is about. In fact, I much prefer editing to the actual writing part. I hate writing itself, struggling to get the words out in a way that makes at least enough sense that I can whip it into shape later. The editing process is much easier for me; it’s not difficult for me to edit 10 pages in an evening without straining myself or getting tired. For me, the hardest part is over. I’ve filled the sandbox, now I get to play in it.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Editing can be hard, but like everything else in life, it’s something that gets easier with practice. Aside from just practice, though, there are two important things that have to happen to improve your editing and make your writing what it really needs to be. Number one: You have to get feedback from other people. And number two: You have to grow a thicker skin.
There’s nothing like the first time you get a manuscript back from a friend or colleague, only to find your hours of work red-penned into oblivion. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had it happen and cried when it did. And that’s understandable; this is your ambition, probably your greatest life’s work up until this point. It hurts to see your efforts hacked to pieces and bleeding that red ink all over the page, but it gets better. In more ways than one.
It might feel like a blow to your ego, but they don’t mean it personally. They most likely don’t mean to hurt your feelings, and if your friends are the ones doing the beta reading for you, they say what they do only because they want to help you make your work the best it can be. One of the first times I sent manuscript to a friend for proofreading, the chapter that was hit the hardest was one of my favorite chapters out of the entire book. I had been proud of it until then, and when she was done with it, there was barely a sentence that had escaped unscathed. At first I was upset, and I was offended. I thought she didn’t understand what I was trying to do, or maybe didn’t appreciate everything I put into that chapter. Fuming, I put her notes aside for a few weeks, too annoyed to even look at them. But when I picked them up again after cooling off, I discovered that everything she said had merit, and I had a lot of rewriting to do.
I’ve written a handful of books since then. Now when I open reader notes to find a sea of red, I hardly bat an eye. I don’t growl or puff my cheeks when someone picks my words to pieces, and I don’t take time to walk away, either. I don’t need to, because seeing I’ve made mistakes doesn’t hurt any more. It’s just part of the process, but it’s growth that wouldn’t have come about if I hadn’t started having peers review my work.
But this isn’t just about the benefit of having a thicker hide. There’s a greater benefit that comes from having others read your work and help you edit, and it’s that you learn your shortcomings and biggest weaknesses. As you become familiar with where you struggle most, as you spend time editing those mistakes out of existence, you stop making them. Each manuscript I’ve written has been cleaner than the last, needing less and less editing, and coming back from readers with fewer markings on the page. Sometimes there won’t even be a comment for several pages! This wouldn’t have happened without the feedback that helped me develop my editorial skills, and definitely wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been open minded to their suggestions and my need to rewrite things I loved.
This is why more experienced writers tell you to “kill your darlings,” and why that continues to be one of the most prevalent pieces of writing advice. Unfortunately, only experience will show you they’re right. Years from now you’ll look back and realize people have been telling you that for years, but you never understood what they meant until that moment. It’s a rite of passage for all writers, and another lesson that always has to be learned the hard way. That’s why I just say this: Keep editing. It gets easier.