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Why Edit?

Why Edit?

Author: Gavin McCall

This essay introduces the concept of editing and its importance.

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Welcome to English Composition. I'm Gavin MacCall. Thanks for joining me.

What are we going to learn today? Today, we're going to learn about the value of editing, the role it plays in the writing process, and how it can impact a writer's understanding of not only the text but him or herself. Then we'll look at three famous writer's opinions on the subject.

As we should remember, editing is one of the steps of the writing process. It involves improving the sentences, word choices, and overall style of an essay or other piece of writing. This is different from revision, which is re-visioning and rethinking the ideas, organization, and support for an essay or other piece of writing. It's also a separate step from proofreading, which entails looking for and fixing errors and typos and grammar, punctuation, spelling, mechanics, and formatting.

It's important to keep these processes separate because doing so allows writers to focus on the different components of writing rather than being distracted by other less timely jobs. That being said, writers will sometimes merge these processes to a degree or perform them while writing a draft. And that's OK. There's still value to these writers to think of the steps separately and to undertake them as discrete steps in terms of gaining focus and distance.

While ideas and how they're presented are the most important part of an essay, the style in which they're presented makes these ideas look good or bad. And editing improve the readability of a composition. This is the primary benefit of editing, not making the big picture changes, but smoothing out the rough bits of that picture so the overall effect is improved.

Now, as I said earlier, we're going to be looking at three famous writers and their words about editing and its impact on writing. The first, and one of my favorite quotes of all time, comes from Mark Twain. He writes, "the between the right word and the almost right word is a difference between lightning and a lightning bug". In classic Mark Twain metaphorical language, he captures the essence of the detail needed to really convey the images, points, and ideas inside you in writing. It's differences like these, the differences between lightning and lightning bugs, that writers are looking for while editing.

Another famous quote on writing is that, "in writing, you must kill all your darlings". This fantastically quick and morbid phrase succinctly explains what it means to writers to have to cut out the beautiful, well-crafted, unusable words, sentences, and even paragraphs in a draft. These darlings, crafted with love and effort, often have to be removed if and when they don't suit the needs of the writing project. So this quote is technically more about revision than editing, but I couldn't resist including it.

And for those who are interested, this quote seems to be most commonly attributed to the novelist William Faulkner, though other writers are also credited at times-- Allen Ginsberg, Eudora Welty, and even Oscar Wilde, among others. I'll leave the crediting to those who are more interested in people than words. For me, it's enough to understand the sentiment, morbid or not.

And finally, I have some advice from Stephen King, one of the world's most prolific writers. He says, "write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open". This, taken from advice given to writers, describes the way he personally separates the drafting and revision, editing, and proofreading steps of his writing process. By starting with his doors physically and mentally closed to the world, King is able to focus all of his attention on early draft.

But when it's complete, he opens the doors and opens himself to feedback and criticism and lets the light in to see what his time alone has created. This isn't just advice though. It's also a comment on the writing process in general. The different perspectives with which all writers look at their work.

So, as you can see, famous writers of all times and creeds seem to agree about one thing-- writing is hard. And if that's the case, we shouldn't expect to be able to get it right the first time. So editing is one of the keys to victory.

What did we learn today? We learned about the reasons writers edit their work. And we get to hear from three famous ones, who put it better than I ever could. I'm Gavin MacCall. Thanks for joining me.

Notes on "Why Edit?"

(00:01 – 00:19) – Introduction

(00:20 – 01:27) – Why Edit?

(01:28 – 02:43) – Writers on Editing, Part 1

(02:44 – 03:34) – Writers on Editing, Part 2

(03:35 – 03:46) – Conclusion

Terms to Know

Improving the sentences, word choices, and overall style of an essay or other piece of writing.