Editing is the Key to Great Writing

When I was studying film at, well, film school; one of my lecturers told me the difference between a good writer and a great writer was the ability to edit their work. He said that ideas are easy, first drafts are tough, but editing and refining your work is the skill of a master storyteller. This, in his opinion, made the most important person involved in the production of a film: the editor. He stood rigorously by this stance and encouraged us all to take heed of his wisdom. Naturally, most of my classmates ignored this sage advice. I did not. During a one to one meeting he told me about a screenplay writer he knew, a successful and talented individual who enjoyed a glamourous and rewarding career. He never told me their name, but he did tell me this little anecdote that I have kept in mind ever since.

He was working on a script and asking for some advice on bringing two plot threads together organically, without the use of coincidence or flimsy plot devices. He asked that I read through the script and fed back to him any suggestions I may have. The email was over a thousand words long and, although beautifully written, it was a tedious read. When I reached the end, he signed it in his usual flamboyant way with a postscript comment that left me marvelling at his masterful understanding of his art and his own abilities. He wrote, “Sincerest apologies for the rambling form of this excessively long email, I simply did not have the time to write a shorter one”.

This prolific screenwriter understood that the true skill required to be an exceptional writer is the ability to self-edit your work. With the story written out, it is within the re-drafting process that it becomes art. Through this arduous stage, the work is fine-tuned to perfection in order to tell the story in the clearest and most concise manner with all unnecessary excess removed.

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