If you are a writer, or if you are starting your writing adventure, no doubt you will hear plenty about another very important aspect of writing – editing. I, like many other writers, live under the delusion that all the words come out of my head and adhere to the page in the exact order that is optimal. (Rewrite: in the optimal order.) See – even blog posts can benefit from a looking over. I’m going to post a list here of my editing steps – please remember that, like all things in editing, this list is likely to be revised.
- I choose while working on a big writing project to NOT edit as I go. Some folks flourish with this approach, so I hear. I haven’t met any yet. When I have attempted to edit as I am writing I have ended up with nothing. I never get off the first page. So – for me, the first draft is rough, unappealing, ‘who the H* wrote this’ inducing. But, the success is getting the story onto the page. That is the point of the first draft to capture those half-formed ideas. So go ahead slap the ink around liberally. No worries.
- Step the second: Put it away. Walk away. Ignore it. For me, the only way to be able to edit a piece of writing is to come back to it with new eyes. That means I put it away, out of sight and out of mind. How long? Well, so far the average is just over a year. You have to find what works for you. I have a friend who can turn right around and swap into editing mode. Good for her, but that ain’t me. I have to let the whole thing mellow.
- Third step – When it is time to break out the manuscript and look it over remind yourself that this collection of words and ideas was likely written in a flurry of inspiration or under a timeline. Don’t read it for the words – read it for the story. While you do this ask yourself – What works? What klunks? Target the places that need a serious re-write. Mark ’em and then move on.
- When I have the big targets in place, I start with the smaller tasks while my brain works on the bigger picture. You will be surprised at how slowly reading your way through a piece can occupy the analytical parts of the brain while the creative right side is playing.
- Get comfy. The first thing you need is a comfortable way to work. Do you do best with pen and ink, do it? Do you knock out edits on a computer like a pro, do it. Do you need to have it read back to you, do it. Pretty much do whatever works to get you to sit down and get started on the task.
- Tools There are tons of on-line grammar helpers. Some well known, some not so well known. In the past, I have searched for “online grammar check free”. There are always dozens of options. Pick and compare carefully. Not all of them are stellar.
- Rewards – Yes, I really do give myself rewards. You might be a ruthlessly disciplined writer. I’m working on it but I’m smart enough to know I’m not there yet. So rewards might be – extra time to write if I knock out 5 pages quickly. – time to spend on other ‘side projects’. – an outing The rewards don’t have to be huge, but they should be something you want. A little something.
- Tackle those big picture tasks. As you work your way through the manuscript you’ll be reminded of little details that you can expand on or use to weave in new ideas – or in the best of all worlds you can use them to solve a plot problem you discovered earlier. (Up there in point #3.)
- Last but certainly not least – learn the grammar and the style guides. Really. There are thousands of tools and people out there willing to take your money to give you their opinion on what is correct. The more you know the better you can sift the wheat from the chaff. It is an investment in improving yourself as a writer.
So that’s it. Like most of the parts of writing, editing is a process. Settle in, and just step your way through it one bite at a time. Remember – even War and Peace didn’t come out perfectly. Tolstoy had to edit that monster. So there’s proof, it can be done.