What does that word conjure up in your mind? Is it something good, or is it simply something that is drudgery because it has to be done. I have to admit I have a love-hate affair with editing, and I suppose a good many other writers feel that way too, whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction. These days I have been jumping back and forth between both. While I am writing a sequel to a fiction book, I just finished editing a non-fiction book that will be out soon on creating great villains. I am also working on editing one of my fiction books for its debut on audio. In other words, editing has become a big part of my writing time at the moment.
When I was writing non-fiction on a daily deadline, editing was a luxury I didn’t always have. When you are given five minutes to write a news story that is going to be the top lines of a television newscast with an audience that could be more than a million people, you learn to get it right the first time around. You might not have much time to think about what you’re going to say, much less edit that line or take your time thinking of fancy ways to say something. The words need to come out quickly onto the page and they need to come fast, and they need to make sense and they better be right without grammatical errors or typos. (at least they had to 20 years ago when I was still doing that sort of writing and we didn’t always have access to computers). Our goal was to write fast, make sense and get it right the first time.
At the same time I was also working on writing fiction during my free time and what I discovered about that was that often while part of my first lines were right, the rest always needed work. But editing was a big part of my life whether I was writing fiction or whether I was working with other writers in the newsroom. One thing I noticed, and which helped me in my own writing was that I began to spot some of the common certain writers had. That made me look over my own writing and I discovered I also had certain problems that kept coming up.
What I have also learned from reading other people’s work and my own is that every time I edit, I learn something new and it helps me the next time I sit down to write or edit a piece. Yes, we all have our little quirks as we write, but one of the secrets of changing them or learning them can be found as we edit. And we can fix those problems for the future if we just pay a small big of attention every time we go through one of our stories. As a result, I determined to figure out what I could do to not only improve my editing skills but to actually enjoy it the next time I was working on a story.
Watch for your weaknesses and them make a list of them as you edit.
Do you use the same type of sentences over and over? Are they all simple and declarative or do you get lost in the middle of one? Are you using the same phrases over and over so that your phrasing sound the same? If you watch for those types of structural problems or make a list of them, you can pay attention next time you sit down to write a story and hopefully catch yourself even as you are making the mistake. You can look for a new way to make your point.
Pay attention to your weasel words – just like phrases. We all have them. I discovered as I edited that I had a bad habit of putting in “just” or overusing certain adverbs. Once I had discovered I was doing that I would simply put it into a “find” on my word program and go through and make the proper adjustments.
Learn the best editing time for you.
Does it work better for you to write something and then immediately edit the story? Or do you find you will do a better job of editing if you set something down for a while and then come back to it later so that it is fresh? There are times when you’ve just written something that you don’t pay as much attention as you do to something that you wrote last week. If it is too fresh you might find yourself skipping over simple mistakes, whereas if you put it down for a while and then come back to it and read the piece as though it’s brand new, you will have a different frame of mind or reference and you might catch more problems.
Don’t totally give control to an edit program on your computer.
Yes, it sounds simple to just run a spelling program or to run an editing program through your work, but they don’t catch everything, especially if you are using something with strange spelling. There are times when I am writing fiction pieces when I need my characters to speak in a certain way and I can’t have the correction tab fixing them all so that my sixth grader sudden doesn’t say “gotcha.” Yes, those programs can be helpful, but even in writing my non-fiction book, I found myself still doing my own editing.
Discover the best editing method for you.
I always suggest people try a variety of ways because only you can decide what works best. Because I write for a variety of mediums my writing has to match whatever I am writing for and you are the same. Are you writing a blog where you can afford to be light and funny? Are you writing a piece on a certain history that you want to tell about your fiction work? Are you writing a character sketch that can be light and funny? Different mediums and different audiences require different styles of writing and different styles of editing.
Whatever style of editing you decide to do we all need help at one time or another. In several weeks I will begin a class on editing where we will be looking at a whole range of ways that you can improve your editing and work on your story at the same time.
Join Becky for her 2019 editing class:
Creating Memorable Characters: Let’s Write a Story (Volume 2)
Creating great heroes, heroines and villains doesn’t need to be a mystery if you take the time to build your characters using this step by step guide. Learn how to make your characters unique individuals who are both human and heroic, or thoughtful but troubled or cunning but courageous. Find out how you can use a simple procedure to come up with a character who will keep readers turning the pages.