Editing Advice (for writers)

Last year, I tutored a colleague (and friend) as she wrote her creative writing senior thesis on grief. And now it’s payback time. She’s been working with me over the summer when no one else uses the writing center. She’s a good reader, and she gets me. And she’s sarcastic. She’s taken to throwing my words back in my face.

“You can do better,” she says at a slow passage.

“What are you talking about? Didn’t you see the line XXXX. I can’t possibly write better than that!”

“You think you can’t,” she said with a wise nod, “but I’m sure you can. You wrote that, you’d write something else better. You told me that all spring.”

And, goddamn, if she isn’t right. I was sure she could find a better ending when she was writing about her father’s funeral. She didn’t believe me, but then she blew it out of the park (if that’s even a metaphor). And I don’t trust myself all the time but I trust her. If she could do it, I can do it too.

The other piece of editing advice she gives me (or I give her, I can’t remember) is to delete the parts you hate. This sounds easy, but it isn’t. The hated stuff is in there for what you think is important reasons. You don’t even always know whether you hate something, you just think that if you tried harder, or were a better person, or were more deserving of a book, you would make it better.

But sometimes, you should just cut it out. Yesterday I sat at my computer and despaired. This thing was never going to get done and I had a tutoring appointment the next day. Fuck. And I decided to cut out everything I hated. It was short. But better. I decided to continue living.

What’s the best advice you’ve gotten recently?



3 responses to “Editing Advice (for writers)

  1. What’s your central question?

    That was the advice. It goes to “why are you writing this story?” and “why should anyone else read it?” but is more specific.

    There can be more than one question, and the question can change as the story progresses, but the writer has to be looking for answers.

    Oh, and never use the word “it.” “It” is lazy.

  2. Don’t be afraid of obsession. It’s not a bad thing for a writer to circle the same issues again and again, sometimes for a lifetime. Obsession can build a powerful body of work.

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