Image Credit: Images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos.
I know, I know – Allison, you’re an editor as well as a writer so you’re going to be biased here.
Yes, guilty as charged, but I will say, even without my official editor’s hat on (naturally it is a red one to match the infamous red pen), I’ve always enjoyed the editing process. Why?
Simply because I’m taking a rough draft (and trust me it is rough!) and am honing it into what I hope will become a published piece of work. Without that honing, this piece of work is going nowhere. I’ve mentioned before nobody
but nobody writes a perfect first draft (see what I did there!).
My favourite quote on the topic is from the much missed Terry Pratchett where he describes the first draft as being “you telling yourself the story”. That sums it up beautifully. The art of the edit is to get that story as polished as possible, to get rid of anything not contributing something useful to that story, and to significantly increase its chances of being accepted for publication somewhere.
Editing is as creative as writing
Yes, it is! I am always a little relieved when I’ve got the first draft of anything down on screen and that goes for blogs like this one, as well as my fiction. Why? Because I know I have something to work with and the next stage is to make that something so much better.
It is natural to repeat yourself in drafts. That’s fine. Just get your ideas down. You can cut out the repeats later. That is one purpose of the edit.
I know some writers edit as they go but that would scupper me. I don’t believe there is any such thing as the perfect sentence. What I aim for is to get my sentences to be the best I can make them at that point in time.
I know I have to put work aside for a while and then and only then can I see the flaws and virtues with the piece of work in question to be able to judge it objectively. You have to come back to your work and read it as a reader would. For me, that means putting the work aside once it is completed and then, later, look at it again to see if it does convey my original intentions.
Sometimes you do find you have gone off at a tangent. It happens. Sometimes the tangents can prove to be better than your original idea. That then gives you pause for thought. Why is that tangent more interesting? Did you not think through your idea first before getting on with the draft?
These days, and for some considerable time, I outline before I draft. For my fiction I’m outlining my lead character. I need to know their major trait and a rough idea of what they are capable of and why.
For blogs like this one, I outline the purpose of the piece and jot a note or two down as to what can help me achieve that purpose (I like to think of these as signposts along the way). But having that simple template stops me from going off on interesting but usually unhelpful tangents and it speeds up the editing process over all.
I know what I’m looking to correct when it comes to edit. I haven’t got anything unnecessary slowing me down here.
As for the creativity aspect, it is a question of asking myself have I chosen the best words possible to get across my character’s story or information I wish to share in a blog post? Almost always I find there are things I could have expressed better and so I amend accordingly.
I also believe the better ideas always come along once you have got that first draft down. It is as if you need something in place before you can find something even better – or so it works for me.
After all, a sculptor would not just stop at a material block, having done a little bit of work to it, and leave it there. They sculpt the material and shape it until they get the creation they had in their mind’s eye from the outset. Oh and they don’t do this all in one go either.
Editing is the equivalent of that for writers. And again it should be seen as a set of tasks with gaps in between to help you get to as polished a manuscript as possible.
Writers have different ways of doing this but my method is:-
- Look at the overall document. Have I said what I wanted to say? Have I left out anything important? Does the order in which I have shared my story or information make sense? For a flash fiction collection, I am also looking at whether the stories flow in and out of each other well. Grouping stories in a sensible order is also part of this process.
- Cut out wasted words which will immediately reduce word count (and that matters for non-fiction articles as well as for flash fiction tales. Markets want you to write to their desired word count). It also tightens up your space. I’ve also found this stage helps me spot other things that could be cut because they’re not really adding anything to my story or post.
- Then check for spelling errors, grammatical mistakes and so on. Some will inevitably creep in – mine are usually due to the fact I have a good typing speed and sometimes my fingers run ahead of my brain – don’t ask, they just do! And it is too easy, especially when writing on screen, to swear blind you have put in the relevant words only to find on a paper copy you didn’t.
- (A good tip here, if you don’t want to print out on paper to edit, is change the font and its size, maybe even its colour as well, when editing on screen. You are more likely to spot errors that way though I still like to run out work on paper. I couldn’t tell you how often I’ve spotted mistakes doing that which I missed on screen. I’m sure your brain fills in the words you meant to put in but why that doesn’t happen on a paper printout is odd, I admit. I just know it to be the case).
Getting In the Professionals
Editing, along with cover design, is something to bring in the professionals for if you are thinking of self-publishing. You don’t want your precious work to stand out as being obviously self-published (and they can do). You want nobody to be able to tell the difference between your precious creation and what, say, the big publishers put out there.
(Having said that, I have just read a well known debut novel and loved the story. I’m looking forward to the writer’s next one but they were badly let down by the editing here. Words were split over lines that should not have been done and I just wanted to get my red pen out to the book. That is not a good sign. I suspect rushed production and no proper proofreading were the two faults at play here. But the publisher is a big name and they can get away with that, annoying though it is. We can’t. We really do have to get our work as near perfect as possible).
So it pays to ask around. Which editors have your writing friends used? Check out Reedsy, the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (I’m an entry level member of this), and the Alliance of Independent Authors, as well. Take part in the writing groups on Facebook and Twitter. Writers talk about editing services they’ve used. You can learn a lot from this including who to avoid.
It pays to accept that writing and editing are two separate tasks. You don’t want your inner editor getting in the way as you’re trying to get your first draft down. They can come out to play later.
It also pays not to rush the editing stage and to keep in mind the end goal – as perfect a piece of work as you can make it.
And the great thing?
You will inevitably have a better piece of work in your hands than you did when you wrote the magic words The End as you finished your first draft.
Happy writing – and editing!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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