The toughest part of writing is editing. That’s why there are far more professional editors than many writers feel there probably should be. The truth is that no one really likes a critic; we’d like to get everything right the first time, but this rarely happens which is why the world needs editors. Editors are basically teachers with a reading problem. They can usually read your work, diagnose any problems in narrative, tell you what you need to fix in order to make a better story and assess where your work should be published all in the same day. They’re like those car wash places where you just hand some guy the keys to your car and you see it on the other end polished beautifully. The only difference is that in writing you’ve got to sit in the passenger seat and direct the cleaning process because as any writer who has ever had their work edited for them without looking it over can tell you editing boils down to judgment. Your judgment with your writing will almost always be wrong and that’s a tough fact to face. I’ve been living with this fact for years and I still haven’t come to terms with it. I have stared it down though, I’ve been merciless with my writing and I’ve seen it pay dividends. I’ve also been ruthless with my writing and thrown it in the garbage. It’s a dual edged sword.
When I’m editing I like to picture a little Genghis Kahn riding across the page swinging a sword at my best pieces of prose because no one will ever like you because of what you can do for yourself they’ll only like you if you can do something for them. The crueler you are to yourself, the less cruel someone else is going to have to be towards you. There are worse things in the world than being your worst critic, after all you could end up being a serial killer (and something tells me that you wouldn’t be the first writer to pick up that vocation.)
Some people look at writing as a therapeutic process. I’m okay with that, I think that whatever helps you get through whatever troubles you have the more power to you. But for me, editing is the therapeutic process not because it makes me feel well to chop up my beautifully composed sentences but because I know that I’ll come out on the other end with a superior product. Not everyone can look on the bright side though and many times I myself fall into that category. The problem with editing and the reason that so many writers struggle with it is that you have to be your own worst critic and believe me, there will always be someone who could be more critical about your work than you are. I’ve run across these people in every college class I’ve taken.
“I don’t understand how anything you’re doing could possibly serve any academic or remedial purpose whatsoever” is the harshest criticism I’ve ever received. That was followed up with: “the amount of time that you spent writing could have been put to much better use by just about anyone doing almost anything.” This criticism was voiced orally after I gave a presentation on my topic to my classmates. You know how everyone seems to have a moment in public speaking where they just want to die? That was my moment. I was ready to cry, but instead I nodded and actually thanked him for his criticism. I am thankful in some ways that he said what he did because I don’t think it’s possible to hit bottom any harder than I did right then and there. The worst part about it was that you could tell that this was obviously how this guy actually felt. He didn’t just think I was a bad writer, but a poor researcher, and kind of a sad human being. I always think of him when I’m editing someone else’s work because I remember how I felt at that moment and I don’t want anyone to feel the way I did at that point.
If you were to look at the first draft of something I’ve written you’d think that it might as well have been written in crayon. I think many writers are this way. A lot of it has to do with technology in my view. The hand that writes with pen or pencil in hand will write better than individual fingers could ever hope to type on a keyboard. Some say that the quantity of words that can be typed out trumps the quality of words that can be written by hand but it is my belief that your brain needs a certain amount of time to process every word you write and your brain cannot do that as efficiently or effectively when you type as it can when you write by hand. Technology is responsible for a lot of great things like cell phones that can rarely be used for making phone calls or e-readers that are forcing booksellers to close their doors, but technology does really bad stuff to us at times as well. Technology dumbs us down in an era when we’re all pretty dumbed down. I’m reading a book right now about thought processes and the author hypothesizes that many people perform tasks with the mindset of the law of least effort which means we don’t concentrate with our whole mind on tasks that require our complete attention. Editing is not a task that can be done effectively with minimal effort. Ask any writer who has had an editor with a marijuana habit (sharing is not caring in this instance.)
Editing is a harsh process and you’ve got to be okay with the idea of eliminating things that you may believe are the heart of what you’re trying to say. You’re always publishing for someone else. Robert Louis Stevenson said that: “everyone lives by selling something” and writers don’t sell sentences or paragraphs they sell entire bodies of work. I’ve found that selling your work isn’t as tough as we make it out to be in our heads so long as we keep in mind that our audience is potentially every person we will ever come into contact with. If you’re an introvert suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, General Anxiety Disorder and Major Depression this may seem like a daunting task, but hey all that applies to me and I usually come out alright. The thing to remember is that people are cruel oftentimes because they themselves are very sad. Whatever your problems may be, at least you’re coming to terms with them. People who blindly criticize the work of others often do so out of envy, spite, or hatred and if anyone ever feels any of those three things towards you then you can smile knowing that at least one person has been affected by your work.