When editing turns ugly…

Well, we did it! We got Johnson Farm done. As we speak the proofs for the e-book are on my desk and the physical copies aren’t far behind. It’s a success, but it’s also a point where we have to change our thinking a little as we move to other projects…

A few weeks ago I talked about editing a blog post vs edition a book. In that post I mentioned that editing a book is a much longer process. It is, and editing a book can be ugly in a number of ways.

The last day editing Johnson Farm there was one edit, a single period in a 50 page stretch of writing. The first day of editing for my next nonfiction project I had entire paragraphs that were moved or rewritten. There were quite literally more changes in the 20-30 page section I worked on that day than there were in the entirety of Johnson Farm on the last pass.

That many edits can make for quite a messy page (I’m one of those weird people who does a lot of his ‘thinky’ writing and editing on actual paper (but if you work on the computer and use track changes it isn’t much prettier…). The thing is that visually ugly editing is actually beautiful if it’s done right. You are making what you’ve written better. You’re clarifying and developing what you’re said. This kind of editing can be a lot of work, but it makes your ideas worth reading.

Eventually this editing transitions into another kind. This time the page looks fairly pretty, but the process seems ugly to me. But, I know this kind of editing is still vital.

We’re done with getting the big ideas in place. For the most part we’re finished getting the small ideas in place. Now we are doing things like checking capitalization, stressing about commas and finding that period or quotation mark that seems to have wandered away.

This kind of editing has a dramatic effect on people wanting to read what you write (and how seriously they take you as an author (Myth takes c4n bee ape roblem)).

You really need both kinds of editing, but you probably only like one or the other (if you like either one…). Whether you like them or not you still need to do both kinds of editing. The purpose dear reader is to make your writing the best it can be, to make it something your reader will have confidence in and want to read.

Writing that first draft can be fun and challenging, but skilled editing is what gets you read. It is really worth doing, especially when the editing seems ugly.

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