By now it’s been well established, mostly by me, that writing fucking sucks. It’s a horrible, wonderful, horrible way to spend your time.
But editing, holy fucking shit. Editing is the worst.
Trying to decide what words to cut out is harder than trying to hold down a job.
The other day on Twitter a friend asked me how to cut their word count, "the copy is too good to let go,“ they said.
Now I hadn’t read this copy, so I can’t judge, but in my experience this is the first mistake most writers make when editing; believing your words are any good.
"You’re rarely as witty as you think you are,” I @replied. “And at least half as brilliant.”
I was half joking when I said it, but also at least 60% serious. It may sound harsh but objectivity is the key.
That’s why I recommend leaving your manuscript in a drawer for so long you forget you wrote it. Or giving it to a lawyer and having it delivered to you at midnight, 12 years from now, by the side of the road in a small town you’ve never been to before.
Farfetched maybe, but the point is that you should be able to look at it with fresh eyes and say to yourself, without any doubt, “what a piece of fucking shit.”
Then you start cutting words.
“Shoot them all,” I told me friend, “play a game of ‘how many words can I take away and still be saying the same thing?’”
Why use five words when you can use one. Why have five punchlines when brevity is the essence of wit.
That is the point of editing; focus.
Like burning ants, you need to get that magnifying glass in just the right place to set those fuckers alight.
Say less. Say as little as possible. As long as your point survives, you win.
As for being funny. Don’t. You’re not. Anyone who tries to be funny is setting themselves up for failure (this blog, for example).
Funny is overrated. The real trick is to be honest.
Hemingway said 'all you need to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.’
Read your manuscript again and highlight the truth in each passage. Cut out everything else until all you’ve got is honesty. And not just because Hemingway said so.
Truth is funnier than any joke you can tell. Injecting a healthy dose of honesty will make your manuscript more hilarious, more heart-breaking, and more poignant than by trying to force it in.
And if you’ve simply got to keep a darling in there, if you need to save your favourites, then - like a literary Sophie’s Choice - save one.
Now all you’ve got to do is make sure that your plot structure works, all your character arcs are fully developed, all the scenes take place where they need to, the dialogue doesn’t all sound the same and there are no continuity errors.
How do you approach editing? Leave me a comment!