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Editing is Messy


By Brian Cole


I recently finished a draft-- one of many rewrites -- for a novel I've been working on. That, of course, meant it was time for the most dreaded part of the writing process: editing.

I went to work immediately. For some people, this isn't advisable, as there are writers who need time away from their manuscript before starting to edit, though for me, I've found starting immediately keeps the momentum going. As I've started my work, I've been thinking about the long process of revising this novel has already been through, and I realized something, that, simple as it is, needs to be said:

Editing is a messy process.

One of the most common mistakes I see in new writers is a hesitancy to rip their stories apart and rebuild them. This is an understandable fear. Something you've worked so hard on can be hard to change, and often I see writers take every little flaw in their work too personally. I was this way when I first started this novel. However, the reality is that storytelling is not a straightforward art and never has been, so you're going to have to learn to adjust to changes.

Let me illustrate this with an example. I spent a good six years prewriting my story, but I finally thought I was ready to write it my senior year of high school. The project started out as a small, forty-thousand-word novella about magical teens trying to stop terrorists. After finishing a draft of this, I then decided the story shouldn't be set on Earth and should be set in space. I wrote part of a draft of that, then decided I wanted to change the magic system. I wrote part of a draft of that, then decided I wanted to drastically change the main character. I wrote seventy thousand words of that, then decided I needed to change even more. I recently finished that draft, which sits at seventy-five thousand words, and there's still more I want to change. We've gone from magical teens stopping terrorists to an epic space fantasy.

Yes, things can change that much. But the good news is, they do get better. Though I'm no professional, the difference this journey has made in my writing is incredible. I remember when I first finished the draft about teens, I wanted to submit it to a publisher so bad, even though I knew I wasn't done editing. I almost did it. And even though it's been a long journey I'm so glad I didn't.

So to any writer who is sitting in the trenches of editing, wondering if the mess they see on the page will ever turn into something worthwhile, it will. But it will take time, effort, and likely a lot of change.


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