Oh, the Joy of Editing

The public has this image of the writer sitting at his desk or her computer composing brilliant prose. It looks effortless. Perfect writing at first touch of fingers on keyboard. Oh, I wish it was that simple.

As Charlotte Ahlin put it, “Letting the words flow freely and getting a first draft done is an excellent, necessary first step, but it’s just the beginning.” Yes, it’s just the first step in producing a final manuscript.

“If you’re a writer, you’re an editor. The great writers are thorough. They dissect their drafts ruthlessly and repeatedly.”

Here are some methods used by famous authors from the three sources at the bottom of this blog.

  • “Write drunk, edit sober” – Ernest Hemingway
  • “The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” – Agatha Christie
  • “substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” – Mark Twain
  • “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” – Stephen King
  • “If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.” – Kurt Vonnegut
  • “Avoid cliches, avoid generalizations, find your own voice, show compassion, and ask the important questions.” – Amy Tan
  • “… cardinal rule of showing and not telling the story – Anton Chekhov
  • “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” – Octavia E. Butler
  • “The final pass is when I read through a printed version of the chapter on paper. Reading on paper is necessary if you’re going to root out odd constructions or minor errors.” – Cal Newport
  • “When I’m done with the chapter, I print it and go through it with a pencil, and do the same for the entire manuscript when it’s done. I also read the finished work aloud.” – T.J. Stiles
  • “What I like to do is edit a chapter before I move onto the next one.” – Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • “For me, editing is as important as writing. No, probably even more important. I’ve never been able to sit down and write the perfect sentence. I re–write constantly.” – Andrea Wulf
  • “I edit every morning, every day. Cut cut cut cut cut cut — as much as I can. I want my stuff lean and mean, with no wasted words.” – Bryan Burrough
  • “I go from being kind to myself to being brutal. Every word is suspect, every sentence a potential embarrassment. Every idea has to be interrogated, every bit of dialogue examined, every scene put the to the test of ‘What does this contribute to the story? Why? Do I need this scene? What does it add?’” – Sabaa Tahir
  • “I print the beast, grab my sharpie, and go somewhere other than behind my computer. I read, mark, sketch, slash, draw arrows, and slash on the page.” – Joe Ballarini


  1. 17 Of The World’s Best Writers On The Editing Process, Writing Routines, https://www.writingroutines.com/tips-for-editing/
  2. The Fascinating Work Habits of 18 Famous Writers (Infographic),
  3. How To Edit Your Manuscript, According To The Advice Of 11 Famous Authors, https://www.bustle.com/p/how-to-edit-your-manuscript-according-to-the-advice-of-11-famous-authors-7594285

About Allen Mesch

Allen is an author, educator, and historian. He has written six books: The Analyst; Teacher of Civil War Generals; Your Affectionate Father, Charles F. Smith; Charles A. Marvin - "One Year. Six Months, and Eleven Days", Preparing for Disunion, and Ebenezer Allen - Statesman, Entrepreneur, and Spy. He taught classes on the American Civil War at Collin College. He has visited more than 130 Civil War sites and given presentations at Civil War Roundtables.
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