Hello everyone, welcome. Today I am going to share my thoughts on editing.
In later posts I will talk about feedback, and that should be a buddy or group situation. Today, however, we focus on solo editing.
Editing is an important part of writing. It is with editing that we refine our drafts into the fluid prose we need to engage the reader, and cut the excess/unnecessary words. Writers, to one extent or another, are perfectionists and egotists. On some level we want our work to be as good as it can be, and for it to be read or heard. This is fine insofar as it goes, however it also generates a problem. In our quest to produce the perfect sentence it is very easy to write something and then stop, and edit as you go. You’ve done it, haven’t you?
We all have.
It’s time to break that habit. The processes of writing and the processes of editing are creation and destruction. They are opposites, and thus use different parts of your brain. You slow yourself down when you edit as you go. Besides, and I will come back to this point when we get to feedback, you can only really do a proper job if you can see the full picture first. You can’t foreshadow or plant subtle hints early on if you don’t know what happens later, after all.
So, first we need something to edit. Something you have already written would do the job, however it is worth you getting some practice writing without editing as you go. I am going to suggest you do some freewriting. That is write in response to a prompt for 15 to 20 minutes without stopping or editing yourself.
Below there are 4 prompts or kicker lines. They are there as starters or aids. You need to write in response to them, either using them as your first line, writing a story that incorporates them or just write what one of them makes you feel. Slavish adherence to the prompts is not what we are going for here
The kicker lines are
It was the largest [Blank] I had ever seen
This is the story of how we got a [Blank] for a pet.
When I went to the dump last week, [Blank]
When I went to the woods the other day, I [Blank]
Just write something spontaneously. The Kicker lines are only there as prompts, if you have an idea by all means, go for it.
Once you have your prompt or idea, start writing for 15 to 20 minutes without stopping, without editing yourself. Then come back to the post. I’ll be here.
It is my observation that some writers will write their first draft and then immediately share it with peers for feedback. There is certainly validity in seeking a second set of eyes to give a new perspective and to spot the mistakes that you could not. However, it is precisely this reason that I do not like sharing my work at this point. This is not a fear of judgement. It is a respect for people giving their time and feedback. I want them spending their time spotting the things I missed. They shouldn’t be spending their time highlighting the careless errors of spelling and language that are inevitable in my first drafts. So, that is why I always do a couple of edits on my work before sharing.
So, now we get to editing.
Firstly, Spelling – In this day of computers, there is very little reason for most spelling mistakes to survive the first draft. If you are typing your work using a word processor, chances are it has a spell checker. Your first redraft should include running the spell checker. This will clear up any careless errors that creep in when you are writing freestyle. Then, have a look through your writing. Are there miss-spellings the checker didn’t get?
For instance confusions of same sounding words, with different meanings. Here are some examples:
Two, Too, To
They’re, There, Their
If you think you are likely to be muddled by one or more of these groupings, keep a list of the various words and meanings so you can keep yourself right. Many word processors have a search function that allows you to find specific words, meaning you can actually check every one if you so wish.
I also have Microsoft word set up to detect use of passive voice, which isn’t strictly an error, just weaker writing. You can do this by adhering to the following instructions:
- Display the Word Options dialog box.
- Click the Proofing option at the left side of the dialog box.
- Click the Settings button.
- Make sure there is no check mark next to the Passive Sentences option.
For more detail on passive and active voice you can check out the Learn English British Council Page.
Next, read your work aloud. I cannot stress enough how important this is! Reading your work aloud forces you to slow yourself down, and even to an extent stops you skipping over parts and filling in blanks from memory. It also is a good way of spotting clumsy language, and word repetition. By this point you will also have a feel for your story, and if there are things that need to be adjusted or included, which you can go ahead and do.
This sounds like a lot of work to do for an early edit, doesn’t it?
That’s because it is. Writing is often said to be 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. A significant amount of time spent writing is actually reworking a draft, rather than simply writing it. Writing can be a long haul. This is normal.
At this point you are probably almost ready to share your work for feedback. However there are four habits you should consider getting into for the best quality feedback.
First – Know what you are trying to achieve. This ranges from as broad as what Genre you are writing in, to what effect you want to have on a reader at a specific point.
Second – Ask those feeding back if you achieved what you intended. People providing feedback will undoubtedly provide more, however this is the first opportunity for you to find out if you are having the intended impact.
Third – Be open to the feedback. You may not always like what you hear, however going through the process will improve your writing and help build your resilience, which is a necessary attribute for a writer to have.
There is a fourth habit, however, I will deal with that in my next post on giving effective feedback.
So, let us summarise what we have covered. Once you have a piece ready for editing
- Run the spell checker
- Look for same sounding words
- Read it aloud
- Repeat as often as needed
- Know what you are trying to achieve
- Ask those feeding back specific questions about your work
- Be open to what they say
I hope I’ll see you here next week for the post on effective feedback.