Positive Writer

Writing through doubt and fear, and you can, too!

6 Ways to Enjoy the Editing Process (Seriously)

Writing’s easy; editing’s hard.  Getting lost in the fun and the discovery of putting down words can make up for the times when the words don’t come easily. But it’s during the editing process that you’re forced to look at the flaws in your creation.

How could that possibly be any fun?

editing-writing

Here are a few ways you can inject a little fun into the drudgery of the editing process.

6. Err on the Side of Outrageous

Easy metaphors, comfortable sentence structures and familiar details are solid and predictable, but now that your first draft is finished, you’ve got to weed out the unnecessarily ordinary.(Any “rushing river” or “windswept beach” similes sneak in? Take ’em out) Consider some more outrageous and outlandish—and ultimately, more memorable—constructs.

Need inspiration? My go-to when I want to get in the mood to take some risks is actually an English undergrad staple: T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” This poem is unusually expressive, almost to a fault. Take these lines:

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Can you go bolder than comparing an evening sky to someone who’s been anesthetized on a hospital gurney?

5. Try Some Ridiculous Constraints for Fresh Perspective

“Lipogram” is just a fancy name for the games writers play when they’re on the editing track and running out of steam. One of the most famous is the novel Gatsby, penned by Ernest Vincent Wright and written entirely without using the letter “e.”

Another editing technique, called E-Prime, involves eliminating all forms of the verb “to be” from your writing. No ams, is-es, was-es, weres, bes, beings, and beens, no passive voice, no unclear connections between subjects and objects.

Consider adopting one of these constraints or just make one up! It can be exasperating, but also fun.

4. Remember Blaise Pascal’s Words.

One of the reasons editing can be difficult is the sheer amount of time it takes, sometimes even longer than writing the first draft. And that’s okay! If your time commitment to editing is getting you down, remember this humorous quote, attributed to 17th-century mathematician, physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal:

I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.

(Tweet This Quote)

3. Engage Your Secret Weapon.

Every writer needs a weapon in his or her arsenal to help thaw the creative flow, which tends to get frozen during editing. Do you have a favorite piece of writing you’ve done recently? Something that, when you re-read it, gives you an extra boost of confidence in your chosen profession? Make that your secret weapon during the editing process!

When you hit a rough patch, pull out your favorite piece of writing and re-read it as a small reminder of what you’re capable of (and keep editing).

2. Sleep. A lot. 

This probably sounds patronizingly simple, but it’s really easy to think, “Just one more page,” and sacrifice sleep to push through the daunting pile of manuscript pages. Whenever I do this, I wind up in an awful mood that tends to stick around until I’ve had a nap. Like a giant, caffeine-addled toddler.

Be mindful of a regular sleep schedule, and consider using a sleep tracker app to help you monitor your quality and quantity of shut-eye.

1. Simply refuse to worry. 

The worst part about editing isn’t the heavy mental lifting, or even the sheer amount of time it requires. Instead, it’s the worry that you’re about to discover that the draft you’re working on simply won’t work. You’re searching for your writing’s fatal flaw.

Stress can make editing seem daunting and even a little scary, but remember that, without exception, those types of fears are totally unfounded. Even novels with fatal flaws can be resurrected during editing, and if you encounter incoherence, you can always delete the offending section and try again. No worries!

What strategies do you use for getting through the editing process? Share in the comments.

About Shanan Haislip

I'm a full-time business writer, an essayist, and webmaster at The Procrastiwriter, a blog about ways to fit writing in around a full-time life (without going insane). I'm also a regular contributor on PositiveWriter.com and contributed to The Audacity to be a Writer. Join me on Twitter at @Write_Tomorrow.

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  • Arthur Denis Abbe

    7. Pretend you did not actually write the first draft
    Approach your text as if the first draft had been written by someone else. What if a friend had asked you to do the editing? It is your chance to get the text from OK to great!

    • Rachel Miller

      Difficult but important! 🙂

      • Arthur Denis Abbe

        Yes, and it sounds a lot nicer if I tell myself “Gosh, what DID this guy write there?” instead of “OMG I am a moron.” 🙂

    • This is an important point, because it helps you switch perspective from writer to reader and edit more effectively.

    • I like that, emotionally distancing yourself from your words.

  • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

    Your editing tips are fantastic! Thanks for sharing. My best editing comes after I’ve written a fair portion, walked away, then come back to look at it with fresh eyes. And my husband. He’s my trustworthy editor 😉

    • It’s great to have someone you can rely on to give timely advice! Thanks for reading.

  • Yeah editing can be a task. I like the point about the secret weapon. But I’m not so sure about the ridiculous constraint.

    • Jevon, I edit my own work using e prime every once in a while. Forcing yourself to scrutinize that closely means you become your own proofreader, catching things you may not have found any other way… That’s my story and I’m sticking to it 🙂

  • Love this! Also I think it is important to ignite a celebratory energy during the editing process: Getting the first draft out took courage, time and vulnerability to let the writing process come forward. It’s time to celebrate and enjoy the time of allowing the work to come more clearly into focus.

    • I agree; when you’re doing nothing but fixing your writing for a while, it’s easy to forget what an achievement that first draft really is.

  • James Pailly

    One of my favorite tricks, whether I’m stuck editing or writing, is eating a bowl of alphabet soup. It makes me feel like I’m refilling myself with the raw materials needed for writing.

    • This is my favorite editing tip EVER. I love it! Thanks, James!

  • Thanks for all the ideas. I liked Pascal’s words.

  • I like to change positions. Instead of sitting at a desk or table, I’ll sit in the middle of the floor. Or, I’ll get my son’s beanbag chair, and sit in that. This small change usually gives me a big change in perspective.

    • Great ideas! Thanks for sharing. I love beanbag chairs.

  • Pingback: First of April Writing Sessions | Learning Together()

  • Eileen Martin

    Ironically I find editing to be far easier than writing, or at least that was the case for the first 20 years after college. Likely this is because I am editing someone else’s work and making it much better – I pretend to be the voice of what they are writing (it’s like acting for writers). Now that I’m writing my first book, I’m pre-agonizing the editing that I will need to do, in addition to what must be eventually surrendered to another editor. I suppose this is needed for similar reasons doctors should not operate on their own family members – they can’t be objective. Sigh.

  • Timely and true advice. No shortcuts to editing. Having a steady routine with a writing partner helps along the way. I always am inspired and anxious to see my partner’s edit comments after each chapter.