Every writer needs two editors. Another person and the writer himself. Yes, we all need an outside view, someone who can be as objective as possible and who is knowledgeable about our own genre. But we must also edit our own work. Trust me: no agent or publisher nowadays can bear to look at something that has not been polished until gleaming. That doesn't mean perfect - just as perfect as you can get it.
So, we have to edit our own work. Good unpublished writers know that, which is why so many of you ask for tips on how to do it. So, I thought I'd let you know how I do it, add some of the things that I know work for other people, and then let you add your own pet methods.
This happens during the actual writing. I can't switch off my internal editor, so, by the time I get to the end of the "first" draft, I have already cleared up quite a few problems and it can hardly be described as a first draft. Importantly, I will also have started making a list of things I will change or check during re-drafting.
So, my editing process will revolve around this list, made in the Moleskine notebook dedicated to that particular WIP. (This notebook will contain character notes and time-lines etc, too.)
This is the Silent Pass – a run-through of the whole book, acting on my list from Stage One. Gradually the points are ticked off – although this always causes some more to be added as I notice other things.
At this stage, I am looking for large things like: plot inconsistencies, character development not being smooth or effective, pace, voice slippages, inappropriate POV switches, boring bits, threads that I failed to pick up. For non-fiction I'm looking at structure, repetition, sense, coherence.
Of course, I will also deal with small things if I happen to notice them, such as typos.
This stage can involve several passes, because changing something can lead to more things needing to be changed.
- First, I am imagining that my audience consists of a group of potential readers who would rather be doing something else. My job is to hold them. So, I’m honing my prose to ensure that every word ought to be there.
- Second, I’m listening for anything that sounds wrong – it’s amazing how often reading aloud alerts you to a repetition or an oddity that you can’t see with your eyes. Voice slippages are also easy to detect when reading aloud.
- Third, I’m looking for small errors and typos. Reading aloud, slowly as though for a performance, helps me spot things that my silent reading eyes would have skipped over.
What adaptations might you make and what other methods or tips have I heard of?
- To maintain consistency of your characters, keep notes of any description you make of them. This could be in a notebook or on-screen document, such as a spreadsheet.
- Consider using a text-to-voice software – I’ve heard of one called textaloud – which means you can listen to your text being read while you edit.
- Use comment boxes to raise doubts / remind yourself to look at something.
- I recommend that you keep an unedited version as a separate document, in case for any reason you change your mind about something you've changed your mind about and want to retrieve the original.
- For non-fiction, how you format headings and sub-headings is important. A publisher may well change all your formatting, but it makes a huge difference to the readability and sense of a book, as well as your professionalism, if it’s consistent from the start. For fiction, it helps if you are consistent with paragraphing and lay-out of chapter headings.
- If you can leave it out and retain the same meaning, do.
- If when you’re reading aloud, you sense your imaginary audience yawning, tighten it up.
- Try to look at it through your readers’ eyes, not your own.
I was just about to schedule this piece when I saw this post on Writer Beware. Very good sense.
And to those who say that editing interferes with the creative flow: creative flow, my backside. Fine, let it flow but mop it up afterwards.