Why You Should Always Edit

The romantic idea of unedited work is a fallacy, as all writing deserves editing to bring it to fruition.

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It’s commonly heard, the writer or poet speaking to another with all the air of a superstar artist, deftly exploring their craft to an admiring onlooker. Eventually the phrase will fall from their lips, some variation of, “I don’t edit, I like to preserve the moment of my poetry.” At this point, I begin to scream internally.

When you tell people you don’t edit your work, you are subtly delivering two points:

  1. You are telling the other person that you believe your work is of such high quality that it doesn’t require any editing.
  2. You are admitting that you do not care about the craft of poetry; you simply like having other people listen to you.

It is a truism, the famous Coleridge quote:

“I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose,—words in their best order; poetry,—the best words in their best order.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Genius does not fall from anyone’s pen, even though some first drafts are very good. Good poetry should require sweat. The idea that a poem arrives perfectly-formed is maddening. It is a romantic notion that is far removed from the reality of creating content that holds up to professional rigour.

Every time I hear someone admit to not editing their work, a little voice from inside me croaks up: “I can tell.” The difference between a poem without editing and an edited piece is astronomical. Good editing brings out everything in the poem, allowing it to be its best self.

“I like to preserve the moment,” I hear, as if the moment doesn’t deserve to be explored properly. “It’s the purest form,” they say, but not editing your work is leaving it half-done. It is a crime against the work, half-creating something ragged and imperfect. People will not celebrate the unfinished state; they will celebrate the traces of beauty that can still see underneath the muck that hasn’t been cleared from the surface.

Never let someone tell you that you can’t polish a turd. They’re called coprolites and they’re stunning. You just have to wait a while before you can work on one, otherwise you’re just smearing faeces around. In a polished state, everything can be made to shine.

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Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.

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