How Editing Your Own Writing is Like Spring Cleaning

It’s Tuesday, which means I am working on my forthcoming book about writing. To inspire you to work on your own book, I promised to share my process and also offer a sneak peek at the work-in-progress along the way. Here’s a little excerpt from today’s chapter about self-editing. Do you hate editing your own work? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Editing is the janitorial side of writing. There’s a reason we editors call it “scrubbing copy”. Just like spring-cleaning your house, dealing with your own messy manuscript is a chore.

First, you will pull on your metaphoric rubber gloves to give yourself a buffer between you and the material, thick enough to protect you from it, but thin enough that you don’t lose sensation or dexterity. Then you will painstakingly pick through every single chapter, paragraph, sentence, phrase and word, examining each one with the question: “Is this a piece of crap?”

You will come across broken things, and when you do, you will either fix each one or chuck it out. You will tackle the stinky rotten sludge that you’ve been avoiding for far too long. You will spend way too much time agonizing over items of dubious value to which you have strong sentimental attachment, before sensibly disposing of them. You will confront your pet obsessions and overstuffed collections, ruthlessly paring them down only the very best specimens. Finally, you will trim straggling thoughts, reorganize jumbled ideas, and sweep up page litter such as stray commas and double spaces.

When all of this is done, you will be left with only good or beautiful ideas in solid working condition. Now you can arrange them in just the right way to create the effect you want: harmonious, formal, dramatic or surprising. You will showcase the finer pieces and polish them until they shine. You will set them off with just the right accents.

Finally, you will stand back and admire your handiwork.

Just like house cleaning, some people hate editing their own work so much it hurts. They put it off for too long, pretend it doesn’t need to be done, or outsource the job to someone else. (Which is totally fine.) But once you stop putting it off and get down to work, it’s never as bad as you thought it would be, and it feels oh so satisfying to get it done and dusted.

Maggie Langrick

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