As a mother, it’s often my instinct to protect my children from making mistakes. I use warnings, what-ifs, stories and other examples to help guide their judgment. I’m especially thorough when discussing areas where I’ve made mistakes. As a parent, my own lessons are put to use if I can pass them on to my kids. Maybe I can save them some of the headaches I had to deal with.
That’s good—but only to a certain extent. The problem is that we often learn best through our own mistakes. The reason I’m so well equipped to train my children is that I’ve messed up plenty. In whatever areas I’ve failed, those are the places I’m an expert on what to avoid.
We can’t keep our children from experiencing some failure, despite our best efforts. And honestly, it’s better for them to make some mistakes. It’s a valuable part of life. A good friend told me that she looks for opportunities to allow her child to fail—so that her daughter can know how to deal with failure and how to overcome it. I’d never quite thought of it that way before she said it. But she’s right. I applaud her for being such a brave mother. I want to have that kind of courage.
The best lessons I learned were the ones that involved failing miserably. The same concept applies to writing.
To become a better writer, you must learn from your mistakes.
In this world of e-books, it’s super easy to get your writing out there. Your book can go from a Word document to a downloadable file on Amazon in a matter of hours. Publishing is a tangible thing, available to anyone. It’s more attainable today than ever before. But to a lot of writers out there, that ease also means the option of skipping one of the most important aspects of the writing process: editing.
Sure, you can write up pretty much anything, push a few buttons and, bada-bing, you’re published. But if you leave out this critical phase, you’re not only doing your potential readers a disservice (not to mention tainting the world of e-publishing, God forbid), you’re harming yourself.
The First Draft
The editing process has been one of the most valuable things to my growth as a writer. After I’ve had some time away from the completed first draft, I come back and discover a world of nuances within my story that I hadn’t noticed before. Some are pleasant surprises, but often I come back to find plot holes, word choice obscenities, character discrepancies and glaring style problems. It’s all to be expected, of course. No first draft is perfect.
That first read-through is a bumpy ride. I’m a little disappointed. I’m often discouraged. But once I get over the initial shock, I realize that most problems are solvable. If I work on it. And that’s a big if.
It’s tempting to say, “No. It’s too rough. It’s not any good,” and scrap the whole thing. Or just keep it locked away for eternity. In the moment, that sounds a heck of a lot more attractive than the alternative, which involves a great deal of hard work.
If you’ve ever gone back and read your work only to be filled with discouragement, remember this: if you quit, your book will never get any better. But you have an opportunity to better yourself. If you edit your book, you will grow. I’m not saying every piece of writing is salvageable, but unless you’re certain it’s a dead end, you owe it to yourself to try. Even if it doesn’t work out in the end, the lessons you can learn from editing your own work are invaluable.
My first book needed a lot of work. A lot. It’s endured five or six rounds of pretty heavy changes and several more of minor edits. During that time I didn’t stop writing. I worked on other projects, sharpening my skills one word at a time. And I noticed things changing. Something amazing happened. I grew. The areas that had been a struggle before started to come easier. I made conscious decisions on things that before I hadn’t been aware of. Subconsciously, I started to hone my voice, to develop my own style. Much of that came through discovering, interacting with and fixing my own mistakes.
I was blessed to have several friends who had writing and editing experience. They read through later versions and helped me further hone my story. Having someone else read and give feedback can be immensely helpful. However, not everyone is able to give constructive criticism. Be careful who you solicit for opinions and remember to trust your own instincts, too.
Even if you’re aiming for traditional publishing, don’t think you can wait and let some magical editor do all the dirty work. As an author, it’s your responsibility to edit your own work, at least the first pass. If you have manuscripts stored away waiting for the opportunity to bloom as published works, you might want to show them some [tough] love. Pull them out, dust them off and attack with a red pen. Their feelings won’t be hurt too bad as long as they realize you’ll just be making them better.
What have you learned during the editing process? Which lessons have made more of an impact on your work – the ones you’ve discovered on your own or the ones you’ve been taught by others? How have you grown as a writer?
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