A System for Editing

Do you ever feel like you’re rewriting endlessly? Like you’ve lost all perspective on whether or not you are making your draft better or worse?

The most common craft problems writers seem to have relate to editing. Fundamentally, few of the writers I meet have any idea how to edit their own work.

This sends them to outside editors. Writers spend a lot of time and money on getting feedback on their drafts. With rare exceptions, this is a terrible idea and a waste of time and money.

Why? Because few writers need feedback on their drafts. Most writers need feedback on the structure that underlies their drafts, not on the language that sits on the page.

Later, they could use feedback on that language. But feedback on the drafts, on the writing itself, is a complete waste of everyone’s time and money if the structural issues are not addressed first. In fact, it tends to mask issues and make things worse.

Additionally, writers have the belief that they cannot edit themselves. This belief is encouraged by editors who want to charge them money.

Now, to be clear, those editors often have valuable editing skills and are worth the money. A whole industry around editing other people’s writing has developed. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. You can hire me to edit your work if you want, although my belief is that you would be better off learning to edit your own work.

Yes. Writers can learn to edit themselves. And therefore save themselves a lot of money. In fact, once you learn how to edit yourself, you can effectively edit others, and actually sell editing services rather than feeling forced to purchase them.

(Some people don’t want to learn to edit themselves. If you’ve got the money to hire an editor, go ahead. Hire me! It’s not a bad idea, like I say. But I still think you should learn to edit yourself if only so that you can assess the feedback the editor gives you.)

I had a lot of these same problems. For over a decade, even while I was working as a professional editor and running a literary journal, I was operating on a species of instinct. As I became a better writer, I began to outstrip my own ability as an editor. I started feeling lost in my drafts.

I realized that I needed a system. I needed to take the skills that I was applying to the study of literature, which earned me a PhD in the subject, and apply them to developing an editing process.

I developed a four-stage system of editing, where you do five drafts. Five drafts, and then you have a complete, finished, polished draft. You are done, until a publisher assigns an editor to you.

I’m in the process of writing a book about this, but in the meantime, below, you will find all of my podcasts and articles that relate to editing. If you have an editing issue that isn’t addressed here, please contact me and tell me about it.