Editing Is Polite


Throughout most of my writing life, I have been a very rude writer, with a belief that my prose deserved to be read in its full early flowering. My twelve grade college composition class was probably the last time I edited with an particular fervor.  There I did learn to interrogate all writing that I do, as I do it.
As a result of this, in college I submitted a lot of first drafts for final copies.  The unfortunate truth is that my first drafts were still better than most finals, and I was able to earn A’s and B’s without putting much effort into the editing process.  To this day, I maintain that the easiest way to become a fluid, competent writer (if not a great artist or sculptor of the written word) is to read a lot of good writers and practice thinking in complete, complex sentences.
Still, this means that my editing secret used to involve no editing at all.  Part of this really is from a crazy, Jackson Pollack impulse that first thoughts are most intense, that writing is the process of recording thoughts upon the page, spilled out in a gorgeous mixed metaphor of color on the page or screen.
After teaching college English, though, I had more than my fill of reading the work of students who chose the same chaotic  process, with somewhat more dreadful results than my choppy but readable unedited prose.  So, I knew that I had to learn how to edit.  Since that revelation, I have tried a few things, but haven’t hit on a routine yet.  When editing my second NaNo novel, I tried editing sentence by sentence first. I soon realized that I hadn’t taken care of blazing plot holes, so all time spent on sentence-level edits was wasted until I did a major restructuring.
On my personal blog, I occasionally review books and discuss ideas by people who are currently incarcerated.  So I have had to start doing legal edits there–leaving my writing for a day or two and then rewriting it to make sure that I haven’t gotten carried away with rhetoric and accidentally advocated for something illegal. Usually, these edits force me to focus what I was really trying to say, as well, a side benefit of dabbling in the ideological fringes.
Right now, I am resisting my urge to ramble and learning how to delete my beloved tangents. Even in this entry I have taken out a couple of paragraphs of related stories that I found terribly interesting but which were undeniably off point.  I am coming to an understanding of how rude it is to force readers to find their way through my thicket of tales, that the polite writer must get to the point and direct each paragraph to the topic at hand.

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