“I have spent most of the day putting in a comma, and the rest of the day taking it out.”
Oscar Wilde is supposed to have said this. Many people take this as an illustration of Wilde’s lackadaisical approach towards life in general. But those of us who understand the skill of writing realise that there is a deep truth underlying his words: editing really matters.
Alright. Confession time. As well as being a reasonably unsuccessful writer, I am a part-time editor. I have edited articles for magazines; I have edited books and theses; for my sins I even edit the reports of my fellow engineers. Of course, this means that I have seen numerous abuses of the English language and grammar.
No-one is immune from mistakes. I’m not, you’re not. Everybody who has ever set pen to paper or fingers to keyboards commits errors. These run the gamut from simple typographical errors, through misplaced commas and grocers’ apostrophes, to total failures of English. And if you think that an education is a guarantee of quality in a piece of writing, then you will be sorely disappointed. Some of the worst offenders I have come across have PhDs! While they may be highly skilled and very intelligent individuals, they have no idea how to write.
Some people I have edited for (No names! No pack drill!) have been of the opinion that writing is an art, and that great artists should not be constrained in what they do. I disagree. I am firmly of the opinion that writing is a skill, and anyone can learn how to write well. And one of the keys to learning to write is being aware of what you write and how you can self-edit. So, allow me to share what I think are the four key things to being able to write well.
1. Draft and redraft. Nobody should ever publish the first version of anything they write. For example, this blog entry is my third draft – and I’m sure somebody else will run a critical eye over it before it is published.
2. Let it stand. Time makes a difference to how you see things. What may look good on the page today might not seem so good tomorrow. If nothing else, leaving a piece for a while gives you time to think.
3. Learn to punctuate. Commas, full stops and apostrophes may seem like mere conventional marks, but they can change the meaning of a piece of writing. Weigh up what they do to your writing. However, Oscar Wilde showed that you can go too far, so …
4. Don’t obsess over making things perfect. The whole point of writing is to produce something for others to read. Eventually, you have to stop polishing your work and publish.
Of course, there is the argument that an editor gets paid to check a manuscript and fix it; so – why bother? The answer to this is simple. If you don’t exercise some control, then the manuscript stops being your work and starts being your editor’s.
So – please learn to embrace your inner editor and to be more aware of what you write. You might be pleasantly surprised (well – less unpleasantly) when you get your manuscript back!
OMP Admin Note: John Nedwill is a writer, OMP Network member, and a regular #OneMillionProject Blogger. His work can be found on Wattpad.com and in the One Million Project’s Short Story Anthologies published in February 2018.
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