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The quote from author C. J. Cherryh reads, "It is perfectly okay to write garbage--as long as you edit brilliantly."

Editing brilliantly

The Artdog Quote(s) of the Week

Yes, it’s been that kind of week, I’m afraid. We all have them from time to time, when “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” First of the month is always awash in reports and analysis. It’s my bad that I didn’t manage to write enough blog posts ahead of time to carry me through this predictably busy week. But the quote I really need to live out most fully this week and month is this one about editing brilliantly.

The quote from author C. J. Cherryh reads, "It is perfectly okay to write garbage--as long as you edit brilliantly."

Part of the reason I didn’t get more blog posts written ahead is because I was working on two different fiction projects. Blog posts and fiction-writing use a lot of the same brain functions, and although I’ve often dreamed of it, I’ve so far never found a way to do both simultaneously.

Writing is not editing

I have a friend who’s been known to show up at science fiction conventions in a T-shirt emblazoned “Write Drunk Edit Sober.” This quote is often misattributed to Ernest Hemingway (he neither said it nor did it, as far as I can tell). And I don’t think my friend actually does this either–he writes too many books, too well. Chrissy Van Meter’s fun essay about an experiment with it strikes an appropriate cautionary note.

I bring it up because the two functions are radically differentWhether you’re pantsing or writing from an outline (I’m a bit of a hybrid) writing original material is a hard slog sometimes (although other times you’ll get into a flow and that’s delightful). I can understand the “write drunk” impulse, if you think it loosens you up and lowers your inhibitions (It might, but not in a helpful way!)

This Louis L'Amour quote reads, "Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on."

But the one thing that is absolutely guaranteed is that no matter how well you write your first draft, it can always be improved. It should always be improved. As a craftsperson, you owe it to yourself. Even if it’s not total garbage.

I did not participate in NaNoWriMo (because, November! Terrible timing in my household!), but I know many people did. And by happenstance, here I am at the start of December with a new draft, just as they are.

Editing is also an art

Lots of writers loathe editing. I’ve never been completely sure why. Editing brilliantly takes skill, but it’s a skill a writer can learn, improve, hone, and then improve some more. It’s a lifelong challenge, but the reward is a satisfaction-level that’s well worth it.

Granted, it’s no fun to go to your writers’ group, your trusted circle of betas, or your editor and learn that they didn’t get the point, didn’t get the joke, or didn’t become engaged. But writing is a communications project, and it’s really valuable to know if your communication is actually communicating

This quote from George Bernard Shaw reads, "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."

The only way to know that is to find someone else to look at what you wrotePreferably a group of somebody elses, whose opinions you respect. Then stuff your ego into a stout bag, cinch it up tight, and sit on it. And listen

NaNoWriMo writers and I are at that crossover point. Every experienced writer who finishes a first draft (or an interim draft) knows that editing brilliantly Is our only hope to take that mess of marvelous potential and turn it into a deeply satisfying reader experience.

So if you have a draft to edit (or any creative project to complete) going into December, take heart. Review your notes, clarify your vision, brush up on your techniques, or whatever you need to do. Then gird up your loins and wade into that next essential step.

May we all find our own paths to the goal of editing brilliantly.


Many thanks to author Felicia Denise for the illustrated quote by C. J. Cherryh. To Trina Frederick via Pinterest for the illustrated quote from Louis L’Amour.  And to QuoteFancy for the illustrated quote from George Bernard Shaw.


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  1. Gigi Norwood

    Along the same lines, Nora Roberts has often advised, “It’s easier to fix bad pages than blank pages.” She certainly has a book or two to her credit.

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