To edit or not to edit. Or maybe to edit a little bit. These are the questions.
My great weakness as a writer – well, one of them – is that I can not abide the slings and arrows of outrageous typos. But, too often, in taking arms against them, I get carried away, start re-writing and destroy the original spark, the flow of the words.
It’s too easy to fiddle and tweak endlessly. Never quite finishing that piece because there are always last minute ‘improvements’ to be made. You can fool yourself that this extended editing is a reflection of high standards, of perfectionism. But we all know it’s another manifestation of writerly procrastination, another way to delay that gut-wrenching moment when you finally present your work to the world. To be read. To be judged.
I do this all the time. Then I read over the edited work and often find that I don’t like it as much as I did the original. It might read more easily but the construction might be a little too perfect. Like an artificially youthful face after cosmetic surgery, there’s nothing technically wrong with it, but the absence of character lines, the bumps and creases of a life lived well, can be bland, uninteresting and unnatural.
Like most ingrained habits, my tendency to over-edit has been difficult to stop. But I have been inspired by Dean Wesley Smith’s motto: ‘Dare to be bad.’ His approach: write your first draft hard and fast then fix it, if you must, the next time around. But try not to. He resists the ‘fix’ phase and posts out first drafts to publishers, making changes only when they are requested by editors. He says ‘dare to be bad’ not only made him more productive, it ‘got me a career’.
So that’s going to be one of my few resolutions for the new year, I’m going to ‘dare to be bad’. And I dare you to too.