Master of Horror

6 September: The Harrdest Job

I guess the hardest task a writer has to learn is how to edit their own work. I usually put away a finished novel or story for a month, then take it out and edit it…once only, because the more times you edit it, the more it will change, and the chances are you’ll finish up with something that’s entirely different to what you originally intended to write.

When you come to do that edit, the ‘hardest task’ comes into play: you have to learn to be utterly ruthless with your own work, even though every sentence, every word, every punctuation-mark looks like it belongs where it is. It almost hurts to excise one word or punctuation-mark, just as if you were cutting off a finger or toe. But the job has to be done, even if you intend sending it to a professional editor afterwards. You should do the first edit yourself, because only you know what you meant when you put those words and funny little marks together; therefore, only you can edit it to make sure it does what it is supposed to do, and engenders the feelings and emotions you wanted it to.

Unless you’re working to a deadline, put the finished article – written as it came into your mind, with no attempt at editing it then – away in a drawer somewhere, and try to forget about it, for two weeks at least, but preferably a month. Then take it out, edit it – once only – then send it off to the publishers, professional editor, or wherever its next stop along the road to publication is.

That, to my mind, is the hardest job by far in a writer’s life. but that first edit, by you, is necessary. And make sure that each word means precisely what you intended it to mean: the words ‘turned’, ‘whirled’, and ‘spun’, for instance, appear to mean the same thing. But they don’t, which becomes obvious once you add a sentence: ‘he turned about’ doesn’t mean precisely the same as ‘he whirled about.’ The word ‘whirled’ engenders an image of speed in action, fast speed, as opposed to ‘he turned about’. ‘Turned,’ in this case, causes me to see a person facing about in a slower fashion, with little suggestion of speed; and ‘he spun about’ gives a feeling of speed above that created by ‘whirled’.

There are many words like that. I spoke about ‘tweaking the nuts and bolts’ on my website, and that’s what I was referring to, the ‘nuts and bolts’ in this case being the words and punctuation-marks used in your story.

I hope this has been of some help to all you budding writers out there. Never be satisfied with getting close to the meaning…aim to hit right on it, squarely and as surely as possible. That way, your writing will look and read a whole lot better.

Adrian Scott


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