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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Why Do We Hate Editing?

I read a recent blog post from Ani Alexander, 17 Signs That You Are A Writer, and found that I could relate to the majority of the traits she described. One stood out in particular because I was in the middle of pre-edits on my novel in preparation for publication.

That would be point number 15: "You hate editing."

Whenever I wrote stories for newspapers, I never liked editing my own material. I often told people that I didn't always catch mistakes in my own writing. But as I thought about what Ani wrote, I wondered if there was more to it than the claim I made about editing.

So I thought about some reasons why I didn't like to edit and I imagined that many of those reasons apply to other writers. Here are those reasons that sprang to mind.

1. Editing can be more time consuming than writing.

When I write, my thoughts shift to putting the fingers to the keyboard and letting words spill onto the screen. I fall into a rhythm and keep moving, sometimes not wanting to stop until everything I want to write is finished.

Compare that to the editing process, in which we must go over what we wrote, fix mistakes or ask ourselves if that's the best way to write something or if there's a better way. Sometimes we notice an error and understand what needs correcting, but if we read a sentence that doesn't sound right, we start thinking about what would be a better way to write it. We can then lose track of where we are at if we think too much about that.

Writing, to me, is a smoother process than editing. The smoother a process is, the more likely it will be completed in a short time. A rougher, tedious process takes more time to complete, and that's what I find editing to be.

2. We start questioning ourselves.

Let's go back to the previous point. We read what we have written, come across a sentence that doesn't sound good and ask ourselves if there's a better way. That's when we may ask ourselves if we are cut out to be a writer and why can't we write the perfect sentence the first time around.

It's not unusual, though, for any human to review something he or she did and, if something didn't look right, to ask what could have been done better. Questioning ourselves is not fun to do and sometimes we'll struggle with a decision we made the first time, but reconsider upon further review.

With writing, we are able to change things that didn't work in the first draft. But each time I review a draft, I keep asking myself questions. And those who keep asking themselves questions may dread reviewing anything they have done, lest they start to wonder if they got it right.

3. We notice mistakes others make but don't like noticing our own.

Have you ever read a published book, article or essay and noticed a mistake? We're only human and, while we try to get all mistakes corrected in our writing, an error or two may slip through. But because of my writing experiences, I get hung up on misspelled words and grammatical mistakes. And when I read a book and notice such a mistake in a published work, a small part of me feels annoyed.

That's no different from how most humans judge one another. If somebody brings you the wrong order at a restaurant, you notice. If a cashier incorrectly rings up the price of an item, you say something. On it goes... we notice the mistakes others make and want them corrected.

But when we go over the things we do ourselves, and don't get them right, we don't like it if somebody points it out. And so it goes with our own writing: We review what we wrote, we notice the mistakes and we don't like it. So we don't look forward to editing, because it forces us to recognize our own mistakes.

4. We realize we have to cut stuff we don't want to.

Ah, the writing advice that gets passed around: "Don't be afraid to kill your darlings." Every writer is told to prepare to cut something out of a story if it doesn't make sense, it doesn't add to it or it seems unnecessary.

Often, those things we are told to cut are characters we loved, plot devices we thought were so cool or scenes we enjoyed writing but, upon further review, didn't move the story forward.

I don't think there's a writer out there who enjoys "killing their darlings." It's an unpleasant process, but it's often a necessary part of the process. But I imagine most writers don't look forward to it.

5. We realize we aren't perfect.

Everybody wishes they were good at everything, never got anything wrong and receive all praise and no criticism. But we are human beings and we will get things wrong and must accept criticism alongside praise.

The editing process is one of many reminders that we don't always get it right the first time. In some cases, it may remind us we don't get it right at all. Even with all my writing experience, I make typos and don't always put the comma in the right spot.

While most people realize that nobody's perfect, that doesn't stop us from acting like we should be. That's especially true for certain professions, whether it's those who work in them or those who are served by them.

And when it comes to writing, I like to think of myself as somebody whose writing is just the way it needs to be, because I'm the one who wrote it. But then comes the editing process, which is the unpleasant reminder that my writing may not be as good as I thought.

I imagine some of you will relate to these points, but perhaps you have others. Or maybe you are one of those writers who loves to edit as much as you love to write. What are your thoughts?

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