Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Self-Editing 101

I hate editing.

Let me rephrase that. I hate editing my stuff. I find great joy in editing other people's works. Something inside me has decided, I think, that once it's written down, my part is done.

Most writers will tell say you'll spend more time re-working than you will actually writing, and maybe that's true for them. They will also tell you not to edit while you write; there, I stand convicted. So yes, it can take me longer to actually get stuff out, but once it's there it's usually pretty good. That's me, that's how I write, but I wouldn't encourage anyone else to do it that way.

However, there isn't a human being alive who doesn't need to be edited. And if you learn how to do the preliminary stuff yourself before giving it to the powers that be, you'll save yourself some embarrassment.

1. Read it Backwards. Basically, reading backwards allows for you to be able to break up the "oh, I know this section" effect and analyze each sentence on its own merit. This technique works best for smaller pieces.

2. Read it aloud. After I finish a chapter, I usually read it aloud over the phone to Kara. When I read it aloud, I find those places where something is spelled oddly or words are missing or that sentence that doesn't really make much sense. Also, when I'm reading it to an interacting audience , I'll know which jokes played well and which got lost.

3. Love your printer. Editing onscreen really doesn't work that well. Yeah, you can catch some mistakes, but not as well as on the printed page. After I finished Divine Discontent, I had the entire book printed and bound at Kinko's. Note: for this kind of job, I highly recommend the spiral binding. I kept one copy and gave the other to my editorial assistant (read: mother). She went through one copy, I went through the other. Sometimes we found the same spots, there were others where I decided to rework entire sections. After we both finished, I had the enviable task of going, page by page, through the manuscript and making the changes on the computer.

4. Share with others. Editing things you wrote yourself gives you a kind of handicap. Letting others eyeball your work is good; just know that as the writer you have the final word. You only have to make the changes you decide are appropriate for your work. Granted, if your reader is an editor, give their words more weight.

5. Know the heart of your story. This has less to do with editing punctuation than it does with know what to take out - or what to leave. Decide what your story is really about, and what you want it to communicate. If you know what the heart is (or "nut" for anyone who studied journalism), then you can better defend it.

6. Be flexible. Yes, sometimes that scene/line/phrase/punctuation that lies near and dear to your heart really needs to go. Sometimes the story arc isn't really working. Maybe that side character is distracting from the protagonist. It's okay to be liberal with the red pen. Less really can be more. Just keep an open mind and focus on what the heart of the piece really is.

Because really, what editing is all about is protecting that heart and not letting unnecessary distractions get in the way.

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