April 21, 2023
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
Occasionally, I like to write about writing. Today I want to explore writing’s evil stepsister: editing. How does the tangled mess of an idea turn into a polished, organized piece of work?
In a blog that I posted last year, I described a few myths of the writing process, in which I said that editing can be done at any time. It’s true. Editing naturally occurs during the writing process. In fact, you probably don’t even notice, but while you’re writing you may exchange a word here or there, replace a clunky phrase with something more elegant, or even just clean up punctuation. All of these are aspects of editing. However, the real edit, the full-blown process of discrimination usually comes after most of the ideas have been reached and the pages have been filled.
Merriam-Webster defines edit as:
1a : to prepare (something, such as literary material) for publication or public presentation
b : to assemble (something, such as a moving picture or tape recording) by cutting and rearranging
c : to alter, adapt, or refine especially to bring about conformity to a standard or to suit a particular purpose
My personal favorite is the second definition in which one assembles by cutting. In my opinion, this describes the process very well. For those of us who enjoy collage, editing may not seem so daunting, maybe even a fun challenge. However, many writers feel paralyzed or restricted by thoughts of cutting their work apart. In addition, demands longer blocks of time and, for this reason, many writers avoid or dread it.
Some writers quickly fill pages by a daily routine of ten or twenty minute writing sessions. In short chunks, one can craft an essay, journal about emotions, play with poetry, etc. Unfortunately, true editing won’t happen in ten minute chunks. Rather, it takes concentration and focus. Editing requires that the writer sit with an entire piece, move through it slowly, with intention, and watch it unfold. Necessary questions during the editing process are similar to those asked during the writing process but with a focus on the piece as a whole. Does it cohere? Is the message consistent? Do the details support the thesis? Does the main character or setting change in unbelievable ways? Have you incorporated transitions to move the reader from idea to idea? These questions and more can only be answered by taking a look at the whole piece.
Editing requires large chunks of time. Instead of ten or twenty minutes, you might need to set aside two hours or a whole day. These will be very fruitful hours, though. They will be where you see your ideas come to light in some cohesive way. While editing can be daunting and excruciating, focus on the positive aspects. It is exciting to see notions that you have played with, that you created, that have occurred only to you because of your experience and knowledge, as they are now almost ready for the world! The most exciting part of the writing process may be finding readers. If this is true, then you want to make sure that your argument is as well-crafted as you can make it.
Sometimes, editing looks as jumbled as the writing process. Sometimes, we have to hit the drawing board again and work with venn diagrams or essay organizers to clear up confusion. Sometimes, we scrap more than we keep. And all of that is okay! Humans love to generate ideas. Editing enables a polish not possible upon first thought. It unjumbles the tangled web of data, knowledge, experience, and insights that you intend to build upon. In other words, think of editing as a friend who wants to help you put your best foot forward.
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