Today I was reading a blog post about the importance of writers being able to throw stuff away and it got me thinking about what exactly do writers really require from the writing/editing process. As a result, I ended up having a fairly lengthy discussion with a colleague of mine where we discussed the value of writing and editing and (after a minor detour where we debated the question of pen vs computer) we came to an inevitable conclusion that I feel I should share with you all.
For the vast majority of writers that I have spoken to (or at least those who value the editing process as much as I do), the consensus is that the creative process is split into arts and crafts. The art comes in to play when you are writing your story and the craft when you go through the monotonous task of editing.
Their reasoning for this is quite simple. When you are writing your story you are creating characters and worlds and storylines etc and therefore, by very definition, such creativity must be an artistic endeavour. In contrast, the editing process is about taking that creativity and breaking it down, throwing out the unnecessary bits and honing the parts that matter in a very craft like manner.
It’s a great theory…
But I respectfully disagree with it.
For me this view point couldn’t be more wrong and, as far as I’m concerned at least, it is this idea that leads many authors to rush to get unfinished work out on Kindle or whatever format they wish to use. I can say this with confidence as I have fallen into that trap myself.
I used to believe whole heartedly that the art was in the first draft and that everything else that followed was just the boring bit that you had to do to make sure you haven’t made any glaring mistakes. And it was that belief that kept me stuck in an endless cycle of producing mediocre stories that no one wanted to read. I could have been so much better but, because I was working in the belief that a) writing is 90% art and 10% craft and b) that the artistic part happened in the first draft, I never improved and, as such got stuck in a rut.
It is certainly true that all writing has an artistic element to it. We are being creative after all. But if we reduce the act of editing our work to the somewhat emotionless definition of being a craft, we are distancing ourselves from our own work. And if the editing process is what makes or breaks a story, distancing ourselves from it is only going to hurt the final result.
So here is what I think and I welcome you all to disagree with me if you wish.
The writing of a first draft, whilst it has elements of creativity in that you are completely forming a story from start to finish, is the actual craft part. Everything about it is formulaic; as writers, we are desperate to get our ideas out and on to the page before we forget about it and we all have our own strategy for doing that. For some it is planning it out meticulously, for others it is about diving in and sprinting for the finishing line. Either way, our first draft is normally full of clichés and repeated phrases and that one chapter where Elsie touches her hair repeatedly and her breath catches in her throat so many times that she may as well be hyperventilating.
In the editing process, we take it and we hone it; we make it more succinct and user friendly. We meticulously pour over our manuscripts looking for the words that don’t quite make sense or fit. We delete entire chapters because they are effectively useless for our story…
And some people say that is a craft as well, and I can see what they mean. But I always consider a craft to be like the unwanted younger brother of the popular kid at school; no one really likes it but you do it because you want to do the arty bit. As far as I’m concerned though, the real art is in taking that story that was little more than a jumble of words that formed your plot and turning them into something magical. That is the true art of writing…
Some of you may be thinking that I’m mad for putting so much more emphasis on the edit than on the original writing of the story, and you may be right. Others may think that you don’t like the editing part because it’s slow and dull and not exciting. But think about it this way…
What job in the history of the universe is really and truly made up of only the fun tasks?
For a lot of us editing isn’t particularly enjoyable. It is grinding and slow and takes away from the more exciting part of crafting stories, but undoubtedly it is the most important part of the whole process. It is where so many writers fall down and it is usually those same writers who will tell you it is a craft.
But riddle me this…
If it’s a craft, shouldn’t the editing process be fairly straight forward?
And if it is straight forward, is there really an excuse not to do it?
I guess what I’m trying to say in a roundabout way is this.
Editing is as important to a writer as any other part of the process. If you can’t be bothered to put the effort into your edit, then I’m afraid you’re not a writer…
Those are my feelings at least.
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