Ernest Hemingway said he could tell he’d had a really great day’s writing when even the work he threw away was good. The South African writer Nadine Gordimer describes how she ‘used to write three times as much as the work one finally reads.’
Have the courage to edit your own work, even when you might have spent time and energy in producing it. It’s better to have written ten drafts of a story and end up with something you are proud of, than to have had a great idea for a story, but let it go to waste by being nervous about setting it down in case it wasn’t perfect first time, or by thinking you need certain skills before you attempt it, or by ‘talking it away’.
Remember you don’t need to wait to be inspired. You can find all sorts of ways to begin writing, and you can then reflect on what you have written later and start to do the work of selecting what to keep and what to edit out.
After you have written a first draft, interrogate your writing using this editing checklist. Remember that the aim in editing is in many ways the aim in writing: clarity of expression.
- Is it what you meant to say, really?
- Have you found the best way to convey it?
- Would a particular event really have happened that way?
- Would a particular character definitely use that expression or turn of phrase?
- Does an idea or scene really belong where you’ve put it, or would the piece be better if that element was cut? Could it be used elsewhere, or on another occasion?
- What’s missing from your story? Details or background information?
- Is there enough to engage your reader?
- Do events occur in the best order and are significant events given enough weight, or are they lost beneath less important things? If so, is that what you intended?
- Does it read too slow, or too fast?
- Overall, does the writing convey the right tone – does it create the mood you hoped for?
© The Open University