What is the importance of editing for writers?

When I left off last week in the discussion of my writing journey I was talking about how much I hated editing. But about that time is when a fellow writer said something that really hit home, about how editing was like rebuilding the engine of a car. For a former tomboy and car enthusiast like me, the metaphor was perfect.  I have been editing my novel, hating every minute of the work, for a few weeks now, and I kept wondering why I was so uptight, feeling so rushed.

What I realized is that my age, 51 next month, has felt like the sword of Damocles hanging over my head for whole three years I've been writing full-time, always thinking, gotta get published, gotta make money, gotta hurry before time runs out. And this attitude shows in my stuff. I have a file full of stories, essays and articles that reflect the rush, that aren't quite there yet, that need to be fleshed out, cut down, returned.  I decided at the end of 2005 that 2006 would be the year of really breaking through, getting published in major pubs, making bucks, but this morning I am embracing the fact that, nope, 2006 for me is "The Year of Editing."

Understanding this and accepting it have already made me breath easier. It takes what it takes, and I have a lot of overhauling to do. And that's where I am with my novel. Once I shut myself away from the world and stop that analytical and business side of my brain from trying to run the show, I'm right back in that world I created, but I am finding myself editing from a reader's perspective. I impressed myself with my prose, I got the story down and finished, and now I'm trying to view it with detachment.  I'm just going to start repeating, "I love editing, I love editing.."

I hate editing…no, hate is not the right word. I am impatient, and thus editing frustrates me. I thought when I sent my novel off to Delacorte contest that it was good to go. Nope, not by a long shot. I’ve always heard that you should step away from your work for a bit before you do any editing. I see why now.

I am in the process of killing my darlings, rearranging paragraphs, correcting punctuation, even deleting whole sections and totally rewriting others. It’s satisfying work, because I know for sure how much better the novel will be when I’m finished, but I’d like to quote Kris Broughton, who nailed the way a final draft feels to me, “overhaul it from the ground up - just take it apart, sentence by sentence, comma by comma, verb by verb, and take your time putting it back together as if you were blueprinting a brand new engine.”

It has taken me 2 weeks to get to chapter 7. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s all worth it, that it takes what it takes. Hopefully when I’m done I’ll have something a publisher would be happy to see.