Monday, September 30, 2013

To Edit or Not to Edit...

“I don’t strike out much. I write on... I do one draft. I do the editing in my head first. I very seldom change paragraphs and things around. I’ve heard that it’s very useful for people who do move things about to have a computer, but it wouldn’t suit me because I just write on.”
That quote is from Muriel Spark—-prolific, English author of biographies and novels, a great Dame who died in 2006 at the age of 88. What an organized mind she must have had to be able to edit before setting pencil to paper! She also maintained a stubborn writing process. She did all of her writing with specific pencils in notebooks she ordered specially from an Edinburgh stationer. If only we could all have such willpower and confidence.
I attended the Southern California Writers Conference this month, where I gave a workshop on editing. Not the kind you do in your head but the other kind. I like the setting of a workshop because it allows me to share ideas but I always come away with information for myself too. Writers have many different methods, unique strengths and weaknesses, and processes that range from disciplined to haphazard. But we were in agreement about the difficulties of editing. How do you gain the subjectivity you need to be ruthless with your own work? Where do you begin in the process, when the task seems so daunting? How can you cut big swaths of your most evocative and heartfelt scribbles?
I have no definite answers. It helps me to separate tasks and keep the writing far from the editing. During the process of writing, it often feels like I’m repeating the same imagery, the same phrases. It’s difficult to ascertain things like pace and progress. So I’m always pleased during a re-read when it seems to make any sense at all. Sometimes, I’m even very, very happy when I read for the first time. But that’s delusional and probably means I need to put it away for several months while I regain my grip on reality, right? Just this morning, I re-read something I wrote and while it had some glimmers of hope, I was apparently having a real issue with verb tense that day. She had done this or that, while he did it, and I felt the need to review some basic rules of grammar.
Not a good day for editing, today. Best to “write on.” Save the scrutiny for another day and just keep going.


  1. Yes :) it's just like that. There are good and bad days. For a writer to stay on track requires accepting the vagaries of the psyche, the weather and so on, and patience with oneself.

  2. hey nice post meh, I love your style of blogging here. this post reminded me of an equally interesting post that I read some time ago on Daniel Uyi's blog: How To Set A Goal .
    keep up the good work friend. I will be back to read more of your posts.



"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka