When most think of “writing,” they more than likely only think of the part where they put words on a page and that’s it. They shake out their hands, pat themselves on the back, and congratulate themselves on a job well done. After all, why would they need to do more? They’ve written. And they’re not wrong, but they’re also hardly fully correct. “Writing,” as I see it, is an umbrella term that consists of a range of skills, the least of which is drafting.
Putting words on a page is easy. Literally anyone can do it, which is why most people will glibly tell a writer that they would write a book if only they had the time. But in the same way I could be a CPA if only I had the time, what that person fails to realize is putting words on the page is but a small part of the whole. After all, if “anyone could do it,” the adage alone would put out bestsellers every minute of every day. No, the writer’s toolkit must be and is bigger than that.
But it’s not a matter of having “it” or some other ephemeral quality (leave that to readers, whose opinions gust and change with the breeze; in general, someone else has to tell the average reader what they should read and like). It’s a matter of a writer having written enough to find the voice they want to write in. That’s what’s going to take the most time and the most dedication, which is why many don’t achieve it. Yes, they’ll put their words on a page, and yes, they’ll keep doing so. Maybe they’ll find easy success, but most won’t because they fail to take to heart a quote that I’ve come to absolutely believe:
“The only kind of writing is rewriting.” - Ernest Hemingway
With everything a writer has ever written, their first draft often isn’t worth showing to close family and friends, far be it the masses. The reason being: the strength in a writer’s words and voice comes from passing their draft through their own filter and making it more theirs. I always think it’s ridiculous and hyperbolic to suggest a writer can’t rightly edit their own work. While it’s true there may be some issues with character motivation and plot holes that a writer can’t see because of familiarity blindness, most of a what rewriting and editing—for the writer, at least—comes down to is making sure their words say what they mean and flow how they want them to. If the words don’t, there is no amount of external editing on the planet that can salvage that piece of art and make it what the artist wanted.
So if a writer is unwilling to edit their own writing because someone once told them they can’t effectively do so, they are robbing themselves of becoming a better and more capable writer and developing one of the most crucial skills they can have in their toolkit. Is it a struggle? Yes. Is it frustrating? Hell yes—most of writing is. Is it worth the struggle? Only if a writer wants to be better.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any actionable advice other than to just do it. This isn’t about catching spelling errors or refitting ‘their’ with ‘there’ and ‘to’ with ‘too.’ It’s a true case of messing around enough until one understands how they want their words to be at all structural levels of their work. It’s a process, and it takes time because a writer must spend countless hours with their own words. Is that abstract? Yes. Will a writer know it when they get to it? Absolutely, and then they’ll only refine it more and more.
There is no single right way to edit one’s own work, but, in my opinion, the only wrong way to go about doing so is to simply not do it.
Of course, this isn’t to mention structure (the bones for a good narrative), character (the vehicle through which readers relate to and care about a story), vocabulary, how to effectively use a thesaurus and dictionary (‘cornea’ is NOT a synonym for ‘eye’), and myriad other facets of the art of writing that synthesize to make one more whole in their craft.