Most images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos. A huge thank you to Julia Pattison for taking the image of me at my editing workshop at The Writers’ Summer School, Swanwick. Screenshot taken by me, Allison Symes. Book cover images from Chapeltown Books.
I love editing, almost as much as I love creative writing. There is nothing to beat the initial creative spark and the satisfaction of getting your draft down on screen or paper (though I admit I’ve written directly to screen for some time now). But editing that work, improving it, giving it a much better chance “out there” is also a joy.
My fear of editing has been overcome by writing flash fiction, given it hones your skills in cutting out all which isn’t necessary to your story, and also by realising on improving my work to the right standard, I was receiving publication acceptances. Certainly I saw receiving those acceptances earlier in my career as sure signs I was on the right lines and so it has proved.
Having said all of that, I have met many writers who either feel the same way as I do or loathe editing and see it as a necessary evil to be tolerated only because they know they’ve got to do it. Everyone has to do it.
Editing Workshops and Prep Work
I sometimes run editing workshops and I share in these what I have learned about the process as an author, as an editor, and as a competition judge as I am all three. The perspectives are interesting. I discuss what editors are looking for and it isn’t just about the typos. I stress editors and authors want the same thing – for the book or story to be as good as possible, ready to “hit” the market out there.
I also flag up why it pays for an author to do as much as possible themselves before hiring an editor. There are plenty of things you can do to help yourself here. I also discuss why every author needs an editor.
Back in 2020, I was on both sides of the editing “fence” at the same time. I was carrying out editing work for a publisher at the same time as I was being edited on Tripping the Flash Fantastic. Fascinating experience. I could see where my editor was coming from and I hoped my author would see where I was coming from when it came to flagging up things on their work.
You do have to be open-minded when it comes to working with an editor. That does not necessarily mean agreeing with everything they come up with but where you don’t, do have a strong reason for not going with their advice. They share that advice on good grounds. I haven’t always agreed with an editor on my own work but I had a cast iron reason as to why, they saw my point, and it really wasn’t an issue. I to take on board well over 90% of all editorial suggestions which come my way though.
I am a copy editor for Writers’ Narrative, working on pieces shortly after they come in and then looking at the draft magazine as a whole. Typos have a nasty habit of slipping through repeated edits. It definitely pays to carry out more than one! I can’t recommend that tip highly enough.
Editing on Screen or Paper?
I do both. For a lot of my stories, I run them out and edit them on paper. It is easy to miss things on screen. For online work, such as Writers’ Narrative, and my posts here, I edit on screen. It can help to change your font, font size, colour etc to remind yourself you are editing. It may well help you see things you would’ve overlooked had you left things as they were.
Why? Because the brain will fill in what it thinks is there or should be there. Changing the font size and so on is a way of tricking your mind into seeing this as an entirely new document. That in itself helps you pick up on errors. Just change it back to the “proper” font (usually Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri) before sending anything off.
For Writers’ Narrative, I look for typos, grammatical errors, ensure there are no missing hyperlinks etc., but because I’ve already worked on these prior to going through the whole magazine, I more easily spot anything I’ve missed. I am seeing the pieces again with fresh eyes, which is important.
You do pick more things up doing this. All writers miss things by the way for the excellent reason we are too close to our work to see everything. That is how it should be too. Who should be too close to a work other than its author after all?
I was wary of editing on screen for a long time. I know directly how easy it is to miss something here. But I also now know in a way I didn’t back then how to look out for that which ensures this isn’t a problem.
Purposes of Editing
Editing is not about telling the author off or making them feel rotten because they missed a typo on Page 311 of their novel. What it is about is showing them how to improve on what they’ve got. There are always ways to improve things. Also an editorial perspective will also throw up issues which have not occurred to the author. The writer then has time to deal with those issues before readers see the work. Editing is to sharpen what is there to give the work and its author a much better chance of publication success.
Whatever you write and if you are considering publication, you are going to be working with an editor. It’s not a bad idea to get used to this process early on so it never fazes you. Many years ago, I hired an editor for a novel of mine and it was an eye opening experience. That novel ended up being longlisted in a Debut Novel competition and at some point I hope to come back to it and strengthen it, based on all I’ve learned from writing flash fiction.
The whole idea of editing is to have a marketable work at the end of it. Nobody writes a perfect first draft. That isn’t the point of a first draft. Only when you’ve got that done, can you see what needs to be done as a whole. Having a holistic approach to editing is always useful. When I am editing a collection, I am also looking at the effectiveness of the running order. A simple tweak here and there can make a huge difference.
Whatever you’re editing, give yourself plenty of time. I’ve found editing always takes longer than you think but you do pick up on things and strengthen the piece as a result. I take time off official competition deadlines and use my time off as the deadline for me to get work in by. My final, final edit is to go through for those pesky typos once more time.
A good edit can make all the difference to whether something is to be published or not. It is no coincidence my acceptance rate shot up on getting better at (a) targeting my work to the right market and (b) editing my pieces thoroughly enough. Having to get work out there by a certain time also helps you defeat the procrastination demon which can lead to over-editing a piece.
Planning out when you will write, when you will rest a piece (and get on to draft something else), and when you will edit will make you more productive. It has been the case for me.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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