I mentioned this topic in the last post given I was talking about coming to the end of a manuscript and how that involves a lot of self-editing, and it was something I wanted to go into more detail about. It’s a process almost all creatives have to go through and it certainly isn’t the easiest part of being creative. There’s so many steps to creating and then, when you get to the end of it, it isn’t even really the end because then you have to edit, and how do you edit something you’ve created yourself? It’s a difficult process, of course it is, and trying to find a way you can manage it best takes a lot of time.
I’ve been writing since I was very young and whilst I will be the first to admit that the things you write when you’re young are usually pretty poor, I will also be the first to tell you that it’s so important to allow yourself to create poorly. Nothing you first make is incredible, particularly when you’re starting out and even more so when you’re starting out and your age is not even to double digits yet. I’m going to talk specifically about writing, but a lot of this can be applied to all creative outlets, whether that be drawing, singing, dancing, anything at all that involves the act of creation; although the mediums of our creation might differ, they often follow very similar paths.
Now, of course the things you create when you’re young are works that are heavily influenced by other things you love, and there might be incorrect spellings, poorly constructed sentences, incoherent plots, underdeveloped characters, stories that don’t quite go anywhere or say anything. These things are inevitable when you’re young and you don’t know exactly the kind of stories you want to tell or how to structure acts or why you can’t throw adverbs into every sentence. When you’re starting off, you don’t know what crafting or creating means at its core or the processes necessary to create something coherent.
But starting out and creating poorly is important because, without those steps, you won’t ever get to the stage of creating well. You can’t learn what it means to create a rounded character if you don’t first see characters who have no depth. You can’t understand the importance of structured acts if you don’t see stories that have no cohesion whatsoever. You can’t comprehend how to create dynamic sentence structures if you don’t first see that all your sentences are structured in the exact same way. You need to make mistakes and create poorly to, firstly, be able to create well in the future and to, secondly, see how you’ve improved. Being a writer or a creator in any sense is to constantly be doing better, to be creating something that’s stronger than what you made last, and being able to see early iterations of your works teaches you not only how far you’ve come but also how far you can still go; just like your creations are constantly works in progresses, so are you.
Obviously, I’m not here to talk about prodigies. There are a lucky handful of people out there writing symphonies and masterpieces at the age of four and whilst that’s absolutely delightful for them, that isn’t the path most of us take. The rest of us have to first make things that are pleasantly abysmal before we can make things that are beautiful.
Part of that is learning how to self-edit.
I mentioned in my last post that, ultimately, this means you have to be objective about the things you’ve created, and that isn’t easy. How can someone be objective about a piece of art they’ve made when so much of the art we make comes from such a subjective place? When we talk about novels, we often acknowledge that there is a piece of each author in that novel, given up for that work, and I believe this to be true for all kinds of crafts, I believe each creator gives up a piece of themselves to create something. And if that is the case, if there is a part of yourself in the work you’ve made, how can you possibly be objective about that? Surely that’s a nearly impossible feat.
For some, it likely is. Some pieces of art are raw and emotional, and any attempts at being objective are simply not going to work. Unfortunately, that can mean it’s very difficult to take that work further, to push it into something exceptional. This is where outside perspectives can be so beneficial, it can be so helpful to have someone who is truly objective looking at your work and offering the necessary criticisms to push your work where it needs to go.
I’m not here to preach that every artist needs to be able to critique themselves because everyone has a different process, but I do think the ability to self-edit helps you develop in ways that you couldn’t if you didn’t edit yourself. Obviously, there will likely come a point where you need other opinions, but being able to see your own works in an objective way, removing yourself from the piece you’ve created and critiquing it yourself, that’s a kind of benefit that will not only help you become a better creator yourself but I believe it also helps you take criticism too. It allows you to acknowledge that you are not perfect, that there will always be things to improve, and so you can accept it when other people tell you the same thing.
It can be hard, obviously it isn’t something that necessarily comes naturally. To acknowledge weaknesses in your craft, even in yourself, that’s no mean feat. Who really wants to be told they have weaknesses, things they can do better, parts of their craft and themselves they need to improve upon? Pieces of art are often so personal, so of course it’s not going to be easy to look at what you’ve made and acknowledge the fact that it can be better or even that it needs to be better. But that is what it means to be a creator. We will never reach a point of perfection, it is a constant journey of growth, and accepting that and learning how to edit yourself is crucial for furthering that journey. Sometimes it’s hard to accept that a summit will never be reached, that you will constantly be moving forward and that, even if you do create a magnum opus, that doesn’t necessarily mean your journey’s over, but that is what it means to be creative. The sooner that is something you can accept, I believe the sooner that means you can become an even stronger creator.
It’s hard to offer a list of tips as to how to be a self-editor because that would imply that I’ve perfected the art of editing and I can wholeheartedly tell you that I haven’t. I believe it’s something I am capable of and something I do well, but it’s something I can certainly do better at. What I ultimately believe the art of editing comes down to is objectivity and the ability to not take critiques personally, even if and almost especially so when those critiques come from you yourself. Neither of these things are easy to do, not when writing and creating is often such a personal thing, but every time you work at it, you’ll get better. Every step in a creative’s journey is another that pushes you forward, and whilst I don’t believe it’s a journey that ever has a firm and finite end, it’s one that allows you constant growth, and who doesn’t want something like that?
Just remember, it’s okay to create poorly. Whether you’re just starting off or you’ve been at something for years, there’s no shame in creating something that isn’t the most magnificent masterpiece anyone’s ever seen. You are allowed to create things that are not refined, it’s okay to make something just for the sake of making something. Not all art has to be the height of your craft, the height of the industry you’re creating within. Self-editing comes with practice and hard work, and it’s often something you have to want to do, or at least something you have to make yourself do because you know it’s important. But don’t let self-editing stop you from creating, don’t let a pursuit of impossible perfection halt you from putting pen to paper. Ultimately, you can’t edit something if you haven’t created anything in the first place, and whilst editing is vital for a lot of craft, so is the act of creating itself. So let those creative juices flow and work on your editing when the time comes (which, I promise, it definitely one day will).