Editing: Re-reading, and What it Should Teach You

Here’s the second lot of thoughts I’ve recently had about editing, and they centre around the concept of re-reading and accepting your old work.

It’s very easy to hate everything you previously wrote. Myself, I started writing as a child. I know for a fact that many things have happened to me since the age of twelve that are not just about conventional education – I have had experiences and I have read more and I have different ideas and stories. My skill has improved, like any skill you spend years perfecting. My style has changed, slightly (which is always kind of odd – you always think your style sticks, but I’m a much more serious writer of late than I used to be).

The reason why people hate on past work is because all you end up seeing is mistakes. When you re-read, especially something you’re familiar with, it’s easy to scan over the nice bits and obssess on the errors. My old work is littered with tautologies and adverbs that are completely redundant, and I can’t get over some of the naive plots I created. Often, this is where a lot of writers fail. They get so caught up about all of the things that are bad about their work – and forget that there’s potential in there.

Any writing is like a rough gemstone. No diamond comes out perfectly crafted. A master has to hone and chisel it to make it perfect.

These are things you should learn when you re-read.

  1. You’re determined! You finished writing the thing! Good job on seeing it through!
  2. Find one thing you’ve done really well in that story. Are your characters funny? If you laughed out loud, you did well! Comedy is hard. Look at you being funny and all!
  3. Did you cry? Oh man. You’re cold. But hey! You can make people feel emotions! That’s a skill!
  4. Your character’s only barrier this chapter may have been a sandwich, but you know that conflict creates stories! Sandwiches are a start!
  5. Hey, look at that dialogue. Dialogue is a pain. But there’s a section that works really well!
  6. Hmm. You put a lot of backstory in there. At least you focused on making a well-rounded world and characters! Some people find that really horrible.
  7. Yeah, you really hate that bit. You’re better at this now. You can fix this!

Basically, re-reading should be an exercise in congratulating yourself. Lots of people never finish novels, or short stories. If you finished, that’s an achievement. Everything else is polish.

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