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When it Comes to Editing, it’s All About the Mindset

Long time no see, readers! Over the last few months, I’ve been very busy with various projects and applications. I’ve been getting back into screenwriting by adapting one of my short stories into an equally short film, rejigging some of my web pages (including this fair blog, with a fancy new title!) and sending off submissions to a mixture of ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

For everything I’ve been working on, the ability to edit and improve has been vital. No darling is too bulletproof, no word is too safe. There’s a brutality needed to bring what you first envisioned to life.

Too much harshness, however, might stop you from getting started at all. Let’s talk about mindset.

The world is more aware of mental health these days, which means we’re more aware of how the way we talk to ourselves can affect our behaviour. Too much negative self-talk can leave you frozen with fear, or worse, indifferent to doing anything because your brain tells you you’re a failure no matter what. Too much confidence, meanwhile, closes you off to learning new things and improving what you’re already good at.

It’s easy to lose objectivity when it comes to your self-worth. Same goes for your writing. So how can we get it back?

The first piece of advice given for editing is that you shouldn’t look at your first draft for a really, really long time before reviewing. In recent years I’ve learnt this is also the best editing advice. Letting your first draft sit in the dark for a while gives you a well-needed break, either to work on something else or become less attached to your current result. That precious firstborn child will soon become the (Third? Fourth?) one who’s wandered off and probably needs changing.

Having this time apart is good for your self-talk when you do come round to editing. Once you’re less emotionally attached to your draft, your thinking brain can get to work, using craft knowledge and experience to determine not only what needs fixing, but which parts are perfectly fine as is.

Yes, this process can give you confidence too. As I write first drafts, I’m often accompanied by self-doubt disguised as my editing brain, picking apart words before the ink’s even dried on the page. By the time I’ve drafted something out I’m almost ready to throw it away and start all over again.

Some writers think this is how editing should always be approached, with the love and care of a horror movie slasher approaching their victim. The trouble with this is that a wholly negative view is just as unobjective as a wholly positive one. The healthiest way to come to your draft for editing is to be able to say, “I like this, but I need to change that.” To reach this mindset, you must let your draft sit.

This advice might seem counterproductive if you’re on a tight deadline, for a competition for example, but you don’t always need to wait months for your first draft to simmer. Even a few days will sometimes do it. Be flexible depending on how much time you have and the length of the story.

This is also why I always re-read a short story, even if I’ve already edited it dozens of times, before submitting it somewhere new. Every time I do this, I find something new to alter, and every time I’m pleased with the end result.

So, if the thought of editing makes you feel like you’re scribbling over your newborn child, put it down in a dark room and let it sleep for a while. You’ll be even happier to see it when you wake it in the morning – and you’ve both had some rest.


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