Posted in How to Write

Editing an Old Piece

Looking for the smallest mistake in a sea of sentences.

It’s arguably the worst part about writing. It sucks all life out of the piece, makes you feel less confident in your words minute by minute and overall is something you would rather somebody else did for you (and yet something you also wouldn’t entrust to another person, in case they completely tear it apart). I, of course, am talking about that dreaded word—editing.

            There’s no other way to say it: editing is the worst. In fact, that’s wrong—editing your own work is the worst (I actually enjoy editing other people’s work, hence why I used to do it for Fanfiction writers). So, to help you learn how to edit your own piece (and exactly why I don’t enjoy it) I’m going to take an old piece of mine and edit it for a blog post. Yay. Okay, let’s get this started, shall we?

            So, the piece I’m going to use is one I believe I wrote when I was seventeen. It was a short story but extremely amateurish because of my age when it was written. To give some context: I was much more a poet back then than a fiction writer, meaning there were metaphors abound; I knew the character fairly well as she had been created when I was around ten or eleven; lastly, I have to say that I’m fully aware this is not me at my best, so apologies in advance.

            For this post, let’s focus on the first paragraph:

‘I am Rebecca and I am a recovering Photoholic.

Ever since I can remember I’ve had a long lasting infatuation with cameras. I never did much with the being on screen myself, but behind it was like a playground my imagination could explore. Everything seemed so much more toned and exciting from the little box on the back of the digital screen than in the reality of it all. I would spend hours on a night editing the footage of the day onto small compact discs or tapes and catalogue them into my ever-expanding filing system.’

The first thing I noticed is that the second paragraph needs to be indented. This, along with many other layout problems, is something that I automatically set before I start writing these days but didn’t know back then.

‘I am Rebecca and I am a recovering Photoholic.

Ever since I can remember I’ve had a long lasting infatuation with cameras. I never did much with the being on screen myself, but behind it was like a playground my imagination could explore. Everything seemed so much more toned and exciting from the little box on the back of the digital screen than in the reality of it all. I would spend hours on a night editing the footage of the day onto small compact discs or tapes and catalogue them into my ever-expanding filing system.’

As you can see from above, I’ve added the indent and actually changed the font and spacing to make it easier to read. Now that I’m happy with the layout, let’s take a look at the words. Okay, so despite the word ‘photoholic’ not being a real one I’m going to count it as a neologism. Knowing this character well enough I would say that she is likely to make up words, as she wouldn’t know the actual word for what she wants to say. However, in the second line, I think it loses something by saying ‘long-lasting infatuation’. She’s only a thirteen year old girl and implies future tense or a longer period than it actually has been. Also, infatuation implies a short-amount of time, whereas she has a continuing obsession with a camera.

            Let’s change the line to: ‘Ever since I can remember I’ve had a passionate obsession with cameras’—this then keeps the oxymoron (passion being good and obsession being bad, showing her conflicting feelings) but changes it to what it actually is.

            The next line goes back to what I originally said about my being more of a poet than a fiction writer, back when I was seventeen. I have a tendency in old works to use badly worded, almost cringy metaphors to describe things that could be described more simply. So, let’s say it simply, shall we?: ‘I’ve never enjoyed being on camera myself but capturing others’ lives on film inspired my imagination.’

            Now that we’ve had three shorter lines in a row, we desperately need a longer line to keep the flow. This means we’ll have to merge the two continuing subjects or add another relevant one in between them.

            Reading through it, I’ve actually decided on a third option: I’m going to delete the fourth line completely, which is redundant and doesn’t add anything new to the piece, and move straight onto the longer fifth line. This paragraph now reads:

‘I am Rebecca and I am a recovering Photoholic.

Ever since I can remember I’ve had a passionate obsession with cameras. I never enjoyed being on camera myself but capturing others’ lives on film inspired my imagination. I would spend hours on a night editing the footage of the day onto small compact discs or tapes and catalogue them into my ever-expanding filing system.’

Now, you see why it takes so long? And why it’s so heart-breaking, especially when the piece is more recent than this one? You end up deleting words/lines/paragraphs/even entire chapters, changing words, researching new words or meanings of some words—it takes a lot of effort and a lot of it you have to be harsh with and ask yourself: Is this important? Do I need this?

            I used to simply delete them completely but discovered this was counterproductive. I highly recommend to you to have a document ready to cut and paste all of these ‘deleted’ lines etc. into. Whilst they don’t work in the piece you’re editing they may work somewhere else, or they may even inspire a new piece.

            In fact, as a fun exercise (and to cheer yourself up after all of your hard ripping apart) take one of these sentences and write an entirely new piece around it. What do you end up with?

            Thank you for reading and I hope you make it through your own editing.

Author:

Trained as a chef, and with an English and Creative Writing Degree, there are no two things I am more passionate about than words and food (apart from maybe my dogs and family). Follow along as I blend both together with as much skill as I have been taught and as much creativity as I can muster. Love to read? Try my serial stories, short stories and poetry. Love to cook? Have fun with my recipes and lessons. And if you love both? Read everything, and I hope you enjoy as much as I do.

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