Saturday, May 7, 2011

How do you edit?

This question can be read in several ways, depending on the word you emphasize.

How do you edit?
Editing is new to me. I was one of those students that wrote a first draft only if it was a requirement, and only changed the parts of the paper that the teacher or professor deemed insufficient. Otherwise, my first draft and final copy were more or less identical. Unfortunately, to submit something for publication, brushing off the editing process is not an option.

It. Is. Painful.

Editing my own work, that is. Critiquing and beta-reading other writers' works is easy enough for me. I can pick out awkward syntax, errors in punctuation, plot holes and incorrect word usage fairly easily. In my own writing, however, it's more difficult. ("It's," by the way, was an error I found today in my MS that I blushed at, even though no one else was watching. I know the difference between "its" and "it's," yet I found one where the other belonged today while editing.)

How do you edit?
I thought editing was just glancing over the pages, picking out grammar errors and fixing them on the fly. And having MS Word doing most of the work makes it easy. No? That's not editing?

How do you edit?
Everyone seems to have their own techniques, from simply shipping their manuscript off to a beta reader and letting them do all the work, to reading and rereading their work until their eyes start watering and the bloody mess of a manuscript is begging to be shipped off to a publisher or agent just to be relieved of the agony of being ripped apart and stitched back together.

Since editing is new to me, and no one can give me a real answer as to how it should be done, the process I used for my first manuscript is this:

1. I set it aside for weeks and didn't look at it. (To say I didn't think about it would be a lie.) I went into the mountains and spent three nights sleeping in the woods, trying to forget about it. I went to Universal Studios and tried to shake the characters out of my head for a little while and enjoy my Butterbeer and pumpkin juice. It almost worked.

This is an abbreviated version of what I think was what Ray Bradbury did with his work. He set it aside for exactly one year, and then went back to it and reread it as if it were completely new to him. Well, I didn't have a year, I had two weeks where I just really didn't want to look at the piece at all.

2. I went through what my beta readers and critique partners had commented on, and fixed the glaring errors first. (Yet no one caught the "it's.")

3. I tried rereading it and realized I was skipping passages because I already knew what I had written, and realized that wasn't what editing was.

4. So I forced myself to pay attention to EVERY.SINGLE.WORD. I plugged each chapter into a text-to-voice program on my computer, and I am currently in the process of listening to a computerized voice read back my story to me. This way, I can HEAR awkward sentence structure. I'm forced to pay attention to sentences that could use more description. Just in the first chapter alone I've found major parts that need revamping.

Which leads to the next question....

How do you edit?
That is, how do you actually EDIT. I found that when I was going through my manuscript, I didn't just edit. I deleted. I rewrote. I changed names. I added characters. I wrote more. And by the time I was finished with my first round of edits, I had an extra 2000 words that needed... editing. When is the story done? When can you finally say editing is taking place, editing is finished, the manuscript is ready to be sent off?

So there it is. How do you edit?


  1. Like you, I too try to put a resting period between me and my first draft. Then after that I get out a bright red pen, highlighters, post-its and my printed out manuscript. I make notes scratch out text that I don't want and make changes.
    I then go back to the computer and make the changes I wrote down, crossed out and highlighted. After that is done I give it to a critique partner. When they are finished reading it I look over their changes and make the ones I felt happy with.
    I then read through it again to make sure I didn't miss something.

    Though, the when is editing done, part is the hardest. Because you will always find things to change. The point where you decide to stop editing is when you feel that you have the best piece of work in front of you that you could manage. You should be satisfied with your final product.

    I only recently perfected my personal editing routine. I currently have 8 different drafts of the same book, because I kept skipping steps.

    I wish you the best of luck with the editing. Remember to get some rest when you start to feel tired. Good-luck

  2. Wonderful question. I think we get better the more we do it - and really blogging has helped a lot in that arena. Though I still manage to find errors there too. Gawwww.

    I save hardcore editing for the very last. I write the draft, rewrite/revised, then read aloud for the finding the typos, grammar issues, etc.

  3. I think the two most important things are:

    1)Leave it to rest for as long as you can.

    2)Read it out loud. If you find difficulty reading a sentence out loud, likelihood is someone will have difficulty reading it in their head.

  4. Yeah, I don't get the whole don't look at it for days or weeks thing.
    I write and edit at the same time.
    I don't think there is a right or wrong answer on how to edit, it's just how do YOU want to edit.
    Some print it out but I think that is double the work. I did print it for my friends that help me in the editing process. Easier for them to read and edit wherever they want.
    There was a list of words some one told me about that I did the 'find' function on to fix. Like: stand up and sit down. She said, how else would you do it? Take out the up and down! So, I did. Make sure all numbers are spelled out. Make sure you always spell things the same, like Okay or OK and Spare Room or Guest Room. Stuff like that. But then you can make your own list so you always look for the same stuff in each story.
    Good luck. Thinking happy editing thoughts for you!

  5. Murees - I can't imagine having that much to work on at once! Just ONE MS had me reconsidering my hobby!

    Holly - Good streamlined method! I was hoping to develop something like that, but I wasn't so organized my first time around.

    Bang - Thanks :)

    Juliet - I tried the "read aloud," it just didn't work for me. Dry tongue, foaming at the corners of the mouth... and that was just the first page! Having someone ELSE read it to me helped a lot. (And since he was a computer, he didn't even need a break between chapters!)

    Heather - I left my MS aside because giving me a bit of distance between what I had JUST written (it was a short, 18k story) let me look at it a little more objectively. And I did certainly use the "find" function, and got rid of an embarrassing number of "gazes" that way!