Story Worms: What Not to Edit


One of my favourite things about being a writer, is that there is always something new to learn. Every day brings new challenges, new experiences, new lessons. We can always learn from the mistakes of others, from them sharing their newly-gained knowledge through blogs and podcasts, and that is one thing that the online writing community is fantastic at. But the best lessons, those are the ones we learn from our own mistakes.

I’m approaching the release of my debut novella, and, as you can imagine, I have learnt a lot of new things. But I just want to talk about one particular lesson right now.

I had an editor look at my first chapter. They were just starting out doing this professionally, and offered first chapter editing for free to boost the profile of their fledgling company. This was a brand new experience for me, and I was terrified about what the report might say.

I was wrong to be so scared. Yes, they tore it apart, but the report was nicely balanced between constructive criticism, suggestions for improvement, and affirmations. From this, I realised that I had a lot of work to do, changes to make that would impact the rest of the story.

I’d love to tell you that I got straight on it, that I improved my story within a few weeks, overflowing with pride at my achievement. But I can’t. That’s not what happened at all.

What happened was this: I panicked. I had a creative meltdown, plagued with insecurities and uncertainty. I walked away, unable to even open the file containing my story. I thought it was beyond help. Of course, it wasn’t. Right there in my editor’s report, I had all the answers I needed—the proof that my story could be salvaged, and the signposts for how to do it.

Maybe that time apart did me some good. Maybe that’s just my way of justifying it. But after a month, I managed to open that file again. And so, the edits began. But I was over-zealous, heavy-handed, and I edited my first chapter until it couldn’t breathe anymore. I killed the characters, suffocated the story, and smothered the most important element—my voice.

As I continued through the following chapters, my voice returned, along with the personality of the characters: their quirks, their own unique voices. I’m just glad I realised my mistake, returning to the beginning and carefully putting myself back in.

Edit out the rambling, the unnecessaries, anything that slows the story. Edit out the clichés and the plotholes. But leave in the personality. Don’t leave your story sterile, empty, and lifeless.

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