Is that what you meant to say, really?

Okay, so this is the first in a series on hints and tips about creative writing. This one is about the editing process.

So, imagine that you just wrote a story. Say that, when you finished it, you found that the story was about someone called Harold who, aside from his unfortunate habit of not making it to the toilet on time, had an adventure when an alien spaceship crashed in his back garden that then led to him having a meeting with God and a late breakfast.

There you are, in front of your computer proudly reading through your first draft and you’re thinking, hmm – this is a pretty nifty piece of work, right?

Well, that might be true. Or there’s just a chance that it’s not. An author back in the day called Ernest Hemingway once said that ‘the first draft of anything is crap’ (or words to that effect). What he meant is that the first time you do something (anything), whether it’s putting shelves up, putting an engine together or making a Spanish omelette, the results are not going to be as good as if the job was done by a master craftsman / engineer / chef. In fact, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have missed something on your first attempt.

So how do we get to the bottom of what might have gone wrong? Well, we should start by asking ourselves questions about what we’ve produced, and one of those questions should be: ‘is that what I meant to say, really?’

You can see how this works, right? You set out to put shelves on the wall and one of them fell down. You assembled the engine and had a few pieces left over. You wanted an omelette on your plate and it ended up on the ceiling. You set out to write a nice story to tell your children at bedtime and you ended up with something that would scare the bejesus out of them. In other words, your plan did not come out exactly right and so you need to make a few changes so that you get to where you wanted to reach.

The takeaway point here is: when you’ve finished, check what you achieved against what you wanted to achieve, and then adjust accordingly. And here’s the good part: this works for pretty much everything in life. You wanted to get to the kitchen and ended up in the living room. You wanted to get to Paris and ended up in Mablethorpe. You wanted friends and you ended up with pizza. The list goes on, but the story doesn’t end there. Make adjustments. Check your result against your plan and change things accordingly. Then, with a little perseverance you’ll get the story you wanted and the life you deserve.

Don’t give up, my friend. Keep moving on. It’ll come.