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The Writer Who Breeds …

September 21st, 2015

DrSeuss_BlogLooking back through some old copies of E-Zee Writer, I spotted an article about editing by Janie Slater – The Gentle Art Of Surgery. Now, I know editing isn’t everyone’s favourite subject, but don’t go falling asleep just yet because … I love it. It’s like out in the garden, taking on a raggedy border full of weeds and dead stalks then, after a couple of hours graft, standing back, completely satisfied. It really makes a difference, and it’s never wasted time.

Course, I understand, most people don’t ‘get’ the editing thing. I’ve been having a running argument about it with one old friend for over a decade. She keeps a note book by the bed so that, if an idea pops into her mind at two in the morning, she can write it down (it drives her husband nuts.) But as far as she’s concerned, that’s it – job done. She never re-writes because: “What comes out at two in the morning is the truth.” To which I say: “That doesn’t mean it’s any good.”

To me, an unedited piece isn’t really ‘writing’ at all. In fact, I don’t think I could put it better than Patricia Fuller, who said: “Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.” So there are two things I won’t be doing in any kind of hurry.

I wasn’t always a keen editor though. The first manuscript I sent off, way back in 1979, was a hand-written story riddled with spelling mistakes (I was only sixteen.) Even after the penny dropped, for a long time I only ever did it at the last minute, without any kind of enthusiasm. Eventually though, I began to see the value of editing and, in the end, to enjoy it. You know when all those boring old farts start wittering on about writing as a craft? Well it is – like cabinetmaking. First you saw, then you chisel, then you sand, over and over with finer and finer grade. Then you polish.

So how are you with editing? Are you a keen, or reluctant reviser? Not that it matters. My friend with the notebook gets a lot of pleasure from writing. It helps her work through all sorts of problems. But she’s never been published, or paid, and that’s not for me.

Alright, I know there are no rules and we’re all free spirits, and you may well be that one-in-a-million genius who never has to re-visit a paragraph. But for all the professional writers I know (or have ever met) editing is an essential skill on which livings, and indeed careers, depend. And just in case you’re still in any doubt about its merits, here’s a thought from the senior seer of succinct script, Dr. Seuss: “The writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads.” And you can’t argue with that.

Keep on writing!

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