A writer can’t edit his own work.
My friend the editor reminds me of this. Often. Especially when I leave typos in a blog post.
Why is this? Why are writers incapable of editing their work?
And why, if you are one, should you not even try?
You’re too close to the work
A writer is a creative force, a demigod who builds worlds and crafts universes.
Stepping back from such a creation and calling it “very good” is difficult for most of us (I suppose that’s only a job for a real God).
When you create something, you are attached to it. It’s hard to criticize and perfect. This is your baby, your child, after all. Yours.
Moreover, it’s not your job to edit your work as you go — that kills the creative process.
Doing this will get you stuck at word #2 of a 40,000-word manuscript. You just need to build it, and get out of the way.
You develop blinders
When writers write, they’re translating thoughts to paper (or screen). They’re taking what’s in their minds and putting it on display for the world to see.
But writers are not perfect. (This may come as a surprise to some.)
As you compose and craft, like any good parent does with a child, you don’t see your work for what it is. You see it for its potential, for what you imagine it to be.
In other words, you’re blind to reality. To the fact that you left out a word (or several), missed a comma here, and so forth. You need some fresh perspective.
You’re not objective
This is your work, after all. You have no way of telling if it is really bad or really good.
You need someone you trust, someone to speak the truth in love and help make you (and your work) better.
Not anyone can do this. But someone should.
Otherwise, you may spend your life thinking you’re a genius, when you’re mediocre at best.
Or worse (and far more common): you’ll spend your creative energy in self-doubt when you actually are quite good.
You just need some help. You need an editor, a coach, a friend.
Life is like this, too
As with so many things we discuss on this blog, this isn’t just true of writing — this need for a fresh, objective outlook. This is true of life.
We need patrons and peers, critics and cheerleaders. We need mentors to advocate for our natural skill and challenge us when we’re complacent.
We need help seeing who we are and what we do, not as we wish it were — but as it actually is. We need help editing our lives.
This time of year, I’m reflecting on how I spent my life these past 12 months. Did I invest in the right people and activities? Was I wise or foolish? How did I grow? And what can I, the author of my story, do differently to write a better one next year?
As I do this, I usually think about the tough conversations I’ve had, the conflicts I’ve experienced. I even ask for feedback from people I trust, inviting critique.
We all need editors, despite the fact that we hate the process of fixing our mistakes.
Do you edit your own work? Why or why not? Share in the comments.