Editing is my least favorite part of writing. Sadly, it’s also the most important part of writing anything that’s actually worth reading. Anyone can fill up a page with words, but to write well you have to know which words to leave there and which ones to take away. So I do it. Oh, how I suffer for my art….
Anyway, I recently had a conversation with a writer friend of mine (who we’ll call WF) about the need for editing. It went something like this:
WF: Have you ever written something and you suspected while you were writing it that it was great and then you finished and it WAS great and then it was so great that it required no work or thought or editing because it was already so great? (probably not a direct quote)
JY: Sure, all the time. Then I remind myself of some advice I got from a college professor of mine and I force myself to look at it anyway.
WF: What was the advice?
JY: Slay your babies.*
WF: Excuse me?
JY: I said Slay. Your. Babies.
WF: Yeah, that’s what I thought you said.
I know it sounds harsh, but it’s probably the most important writing lesson I ever learned. Sam, the workshop professor who taught it to me, wouldn’t tolerate mollycoddling of any kind in his class. He’d sit at the front of the room and if he felt that one of us was cradling our precious work a little too gently, he’d shout out, “What’s the only rule, Miss Young?” The answer, the only rule, was “Slay your babies.”
By that he meant that anything and everything you write needs editing. It needs finessing. It needs work. Hence first drafts and second drafts and rounds of revisions. Even if you love something, even if you are 100% sure it’s the best thing you have ever written, even if it pains you physically to do it, you still need to rip it apart. In fact, if Sam were here right now, he’d probably say you owe it to the work to rip it apart.
Anyway, I thought I’d pass that along. What’s the best advice about writing you ever got? Tell me all about it in the comments. Maybe we can help each other out.
* Just for the record, I am vehemently anti-infanticide. I am also against shoving the elderly, kicking a man when he’s down, and horse violence of any kind.