The Closet Editor

Once you finish writing your manuscript, what do you do next?

  1. Submit it somewhere
  2. Give it to friends to read
  3. Revise.

If you answered number 1 or 2, you’re wrong.

A first draft shouldn’t go anywhere. You might think it’s brilliant. It’s probably not. A first draft is a spill: ideas, prose, phrasing, idiosyncrasies, crap, and much, much more, all come tumbling out. Flawless final drafts don’t exist, so how do you think a first draft fares?

A publisher or journal is going to spot the bad stuff immediately. If you think they’ll look past it to the good stuff, well, nope. Even as they’re reading, they’re considering the amount of work it’ll require to bring something up to a publishable standard. Issues will also provide an insight into the author’s capability to fix content. Once these crosses start mounting up, readers will ditch your submission and jump to the next one on the pile.

Getting feedback from friends and alpha readers is great. Getting a manuscript assessment – by an editor trained to spot issues, and explain how to address them – is even better. But don’t hand over your writing if you know there are issues. It’s redundant if readers are just identifying issues you already knew existed. They should be asked for feedback after you can no longer get anything more out of your work yourself.

This means you have to revise.

And revise.

And revise.

Work on your writing until you can’t get anything more out of it.

Now some authors might complain they don’t have the capability for revision, but writing and editing use the same part of the brain, but just in different ways.

Here’s a few tips to help you:

  1. Be ruthless. You’re not there to embrace, laud, or fall in love with your writing. You’re there to identify weaknesses and address them.
  2. Be clear on the intent of your revision. Assign different motivations to each revision. One might focus on structure. Another might look at copy (e.g. grammar, punctuation, spelling). Another might examine flow. Etc. Obviously, you can address every facet peripherally on each pass, but there should always be one central, driving focus.

    If you’re grimacing or scoffing at the thought of multiple revisions, welcome to the world of writing. Sometimes, you might perform multiple revisions on just one facet (e.g. the structure) before you look at the way the story is flowing.
  3. This isn’t a race. Too many people are in a hurry to get their writing out into the world. Enthusiasm is laudable, but never let it usurp patience. You have one chance to make a first impression. Would you rather do it with a hastily revised manuscript, or something you’ve taken time over?
  4. Nor is this a test of endurance. You don’t have to revise big chunks in a single sitting. If you try to, your mind will inevitably wander and you’ll miss stuff. Break it up. Keep it manageable. If you know you have a point where you tire, stop and refresh, or come back to it the next day.
  5. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Or your work. Revision will always drum up doubts on your ability. That’s fine. Writing is an endeavour where we will frequently question ourselves. Just understand that this is a continuing journey towards improvement.

Writing is hard work. Writing well requires constant revision. Like writing, revision is a muscle that needs to be developed.

As it develops, it will work in conjunction with the writing muscle.

Every writer has the ability to be their own editor. Every writer is, in fact, a closet editor.

If you’re interested in learning more about editing and revision, on Monday, 30th September, 10.00am – 4.00pm, I’ll be running a workshop, After the first draft: the mechanics of revision, for Writers Victoria.

Book now to learn about techniques you can apply to revision, and learn what to look out for.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *