Editing is like looking for your car keys on a messy dining room table. The keys are there, but you are unable to see them among the mail and magazines, your daughter’s homework, brochures from the hardware store, the candlesticks and forgotten napkin, a cup of cold coffee, a box of tissues, your toddler’s blocks, the dog’s leash, a bag of catnip, flyers formerly tucked in the front screen door, your son’s iPod, your husband’s wallet, and on and on.
Only when you have searched every other room in the house and finally returned to the dining room table will you be able to see the keys that have always been there. It is the same with editing. You must allow yourself to step away so that when you return, you will be able to see immediately what portions of your writing need to be revised.
I like to edit during my writing process. Part of the reason I do this is so that I don’t forget the really great idea that just popped into my head. I don’t understand the point of writing said idea in a notebook and going back to fix the issue after the entire novel is written. This works for some people, but not for me. And that’s okay. There is no one way to write a novel.
With that being said, I also like to step away from my work, especially the larger pieces, for about three months. Absolutely no peeking at the story on my laptop. I even try to not think about it unless an amazing idea surfaces, and being in touch with my work, I know the difference between when that occurs and when I’m just anxious to cheat and sneak a peek.
Turns out, what I discovered intuitively is actually a recommendation from one of my favorite writing books, Page After Page by Heather Sellers. Mrs. Sellers refers to this process as curing, and in her case, it’s what happens when she submits a work and doesn’t look at it, edit it, consider it again until all the rejections return or she’s accepted, in which case she doesn’t need to edit.
Then she goes one step further past the editing process and offers this practice as a method for handling rejection. When you and your writing come back together, it’s more complex, deeper, richer, funkier, more interesting, and a whole host of other things you didn’t see before because you didn’t put enough time between you and the writing. Also during this time, you’ve grown. Hopefully, you’ve been reading both for pleasure and to study writing. Keep writing every day to ensure you have enough stuff that you don’t feel as if you’re wasting time not editing it.
It’s really quite simple, and yet in its simplicity, it’s brilliant. Write to keep from editing too soon; write to ease the pain of rejection. But whatever you do, write.