If you are a writer, then all you want to do is write. Learning how to edit can be a scary task that sends some of the strongest writers into a cold sweat. Who wants to cut and delete any of the precious words they’ve put on paper?
I don’t blame anyone for feeling the dread of editing. I’ve been there. For years, I feared the red-inked pen slashing my words, cutting me with rejection as the pen stabbed my work as if it was my own heart bleeding on the paper.
I was even one of those people who clung to my work, hiding it from others’ eyes because I was afraid of criticism.
Now, I want that criticism. The editing marks on my work will help me to grow. I want to know what is working with my stories, and what isn’t. The last thing I want is to share shoddy work with publishers and get rejected. I want to share my best work in hopes of getting published. If I don’t get feedback or edit my work beforehand, then I’m just wasting my time.
For the sake of clarification, I believe editing comes in several stages.
- Self editing
- Peer/Professional editing
- Repeat (the amount of repetition will vary, but at least once seems to be a must)
For several reasons, I do NOT believe anyone can properly edit their own work by themselves.
Readers have different perspectives than authors. A scene can be perfectly clear in a writer’s own mind, but remain blurry for readers because an author forgot to consider other points of view. Writers can easily leave out specific details or prompts that other readers need to envision what the author is trying to describe. Think of how often people communicate by speech or text, only to misinterpret one another.
That’s not what I said!
That’s not what I meant!
Don’t let that be you. Edit your work.
Why Should You Edit?
For me, I am writing with the purpose of publishing my work. I need to gain readers who will enjoy my stories. With that in mind, I need to know if I’m writing anything worthwhile to my readers.
When I’ve shared work with others, there is no better feeling than when someone gushes over something I shared with them.
“I loooove this!” are always the best words for a writer’s ear to hear.
But, if I’m not getting a reaction of love or even hate, then I’m doing something wrong and I want to know what it is.
Whether I am editing for grammar and punctuation, content, or style, the process is no less trivial.
If we want our work to be at its best, then we need to edit.
Looking over our writing with a fine-toothed comb can be painful. But, there is a way to carefully untangle our knotted words, smoothing them out into beautifully refined lines without pulling out our own hair.
When to Edit
In my younger days, I would constantly stop to edit my work as I went, no matter what I was writing. Heck, I still do it, sometimes. But, I have learned that the best method of editing starts AFTER I’ve completely finished my first draft.
Writers need to allow themselves to finish their thoughts and ideas completely before they correct themselves.
When you are your own editor, it’s hard to stop yourself from correcting little mistakes immediately. But, trust me, it is far better to complete that sentence, paragraph, chapter, or even your book, before you stop your flow to correct something.
What if I forget to correct my mistakes?
You won’t. If you saw your mistake when you were first writing it, you will catch it again later. Besides, after you look at your entire document, you will probably decide to edit your work differently because your work took a different theme or flow than you initially intended.
Don’t Interrupt Your Flow!
I didn’t used to believe it, but stopping myself in the middle of a flowing thought is the worst thing I can do. It is so easy to lose our spot when the creative juices are flowing. I get so mad when my hubby (though I love and forgive him) interrupts my train of thought with a random question about what we’re cooking for dinner or plans we may have on the weekend.
When I’m writing, I have specific words and a specific order I want to write things in, and stopping myself mid-thought is the easiest way to lose those ideas. I often wish I could type faster just so I could keep up with my own train of thoughts.
Stopping myself with a quick edit within a sentence is just another way to lose the momentum I have going.
My advice, which is the same as I’ve heard from many other professional, published writers, is to finish your first draft completely. Then, and only then, do you start from the beginning, reread and begin editing.
How to Edit – the basics
Aside from the typical editing applications installed on Word docs, Google Docs, and even our phones, there is so much more to editing than using Spell Check or the Hemingway Editor. For several reasons, these are NEVER enough: Computers make mistakes. Computers can’t be creative. Computers lack emotion… But, you probably already know that.
Grammar, punctuation, sentence length and flow are all important, as publishers will attest. But, after your cold computer has assessed your writing, you’re going to need a warm-blooded human brain to look over your work.
A piece of writing could be immaculately written, clear of any grammatical errors. But, only real people can tell you if you’ve written something interesting or cohesive.
And yes, your own opinion should totally weigh in on whether your work is worth something. If your work isn’t interesting to you, then why bother writing it?
- Read Aloud: Not only is this a great way to catch grammatical problems, but it also checks the flow of your work. I especially find this helpful when writing dialogue. If it sounds awkward, it should probably be reworded to read more smoothly and sound more natural.
- Set Aside for Later: Seriously, step away from your work. As much as you may love your work, you need to give it some space. Reading with fresh eyes can make a world of difference. I learned this trick when I was in college; I’d write and research for papers until I couldn’t see straight. But, when I’d let it rest for a day or two and come back, it was like reading it anew. I may have read and re-read a piece dozens of times in one day and find nothing wrong, but when I took a step back and returned, I was able to think more clearly. This may be my favorite piece of advice for editing because it’s almost as good as the next tip (ALMOST!).
Peer and Professional Editing
- Have a Peer Read It: You really need to have someone else’s opinion when editing your work. Whether you have peers that you trust or you employ someone to look over your work. I recommend using at least 3 different readers since different people have different perspectives that may or may not match. After I gather all the information from different readers, I take the critiques that make sense to my work, and let go of the ones that don’t.
- Hire a Professional: Peers are well and good when you are working out your initial drafts. However, you should hire a professional editor as your last step of editing. If you want your best chance at having an agent or publisher accept your work for publication, hire an editor. They are unbiased, educated, and will provide the most thorough feedback because you are paying them to do so — Ahem, their reputation depends on providing quality work.
There are many different techniques that people use to edit their work. Personally, I think it is important to utilize every single one to achieve the cleanest copy possible.
The Editing Mindset
You have to be in the right state of mind when you edit or get critiqued. Make sure to prep yourself for improvements and feel ready to take the criticism. Think of it as taking your work to the doctor for a checkup.
Besides, if other people are going to read your work, the criticism is coming whether you like it or not.
When you get published, people will review your book. Reviews are critiques. And authors want as many reviews they can get to gain notoriety and more readers. Despite how scary they may sound, you still want them.
Here’s some things to keep in mind when you are editing your work with others.
- Don’t Take Offense
- Remember that everyone has different taste
- Everyone has different perspectives
- Your job as an author is to be reviewed
- Creative work is up for interpretation
This is all easier said than done. Our work is a piece of ourselves. But, critiques are part of the business of publishing and sharing our work.
Keep in mind that it is better to edit our work and receive criticism BEFORE publication.
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