I’m a sub-par writer. Always have been. And I’m totally cool with saying that because, well, for one thing it’s true. But I’ve also learned that it’s not how well you write that makes you a good writer. It’s how well you edit.
It’s how well you’re able to look at not only your writing, but by extension, yourself. Because our stories are us no matter how different we are from them. They sprout from our heads with our preconceived notions and beliefs upon the world, are molded from the way we interpret the research that we elected to do in our own way.
We can’t run from ourselves, especially when it comes to something as personal as fiction. Good editing thus requires you to find your faults, make your peace with them, and actively work to do better.
I first learned this lesson through my adventures with intersectional feminism. You know, the kind that says, “All people should have equity!” and doesn’t follow with, “Not so fast, everybody who isn’t exactly like me!” The kind that forces you to sit down, shut up, and pay attention to someone else’s views with as much of an open mind as possible. The kind that has no problem telling you why you suck…but with the intention of making you a better human being. The kind that has you sitting at the table not so much because you care about yourself, but because you want to care about everyone.
Sound familiar? It’s both wonderful and scary as hell, depending on where you’re coming from. (White male over here.)
But with its toughness comes all sorts of invaluable life lessons. And if you write fiction, many of these can apply to craft just as much as to life. Because damn if we can ever separate the two.
With both intersectional feminism and editing, the first (and best) place to start is yourself. Do you have a tendency to be rambling and repetitive in your work? (I do.) Do you claim you’re for all women, then say the trans flavor doesn’t count? Do you love purple language a wee bit too much? Are you not “really” racist, but see no problem playing up the diet kind? You’re not going to like what you find when you start digging, but dammit, you need to stop being scared of looking your faults in the face. It’s the only way you can start overcoming them.
Trying Things Even If You Don’t Wanna
You start to give new ideas your best shot, even if you’re not convinced of what the other person is saying. You leave your preconceived notions at the door—don’t worry, they’ll still be there when you leave—and try out someone else’s thoughts for a while.
Cut that favorite scene, make your chapters chronological instead of non-linear, collapse those three characters into one. Whatever it takes. Because you’re here to be a rock star, not to be right.
Gaining Enthusiastic Interest in Dialogue (and Just Plain Listening)
Once you start noticing how right and insightful other people can be, you get really excited to talk them up. You suddenly want to ingest all opinions possible in the hopes you can open your eyes more. You gain a willingness to truly listen to others without bias (instead of just politely waiting for your turn to speak or yelling, “Wrong!” in your head). And through all this learning, you begin to see things from different angles, and thus all the different ways you can tackle a problem.
Learning to Do Your Homework
You can’t fake your way through this shit. If you say you’re the best ally for Black people ever, you’re going to get found out pretty damn fast when you embarrassingly babble how your racist comment was “just a joke.” You need to be able to educate yourself on your own time.
Same with writing. You can’t say you’re a great writer and then do no editing, hoping to God that somehow it all works itself out without you putting in the effort.
Understanding the Importance of Community
Intersectional feminism requires group effort. You have different walks of life with different experiences resulting in unique mindsets and ways of looking at things. All are important. For no one person can come to understand everything about the world on their own.
With novelists, there are no lone geniuses. It takes a village to make a book happen. No author is an island. Blah blah blah. Haven’t you ever read someone’s acknowledgements page?
Victories require communal effort and camaraderie. The more people involved, the more victorious you’ll (all) likely be. So school yourself. Learn the dangers of being a lazy writer. And then go forth with a story that shows the best of who you can be.