How To Edit Yourself
First instincts may guide you through the initial phase of writing but, oftentimes, the work doesn’t take on a life of its own until it’s been through the editing process. Some writers pay others to do the job, but most go it alone, armed with a solid set of editing skills to transform a good read into something great.
It’s tough turning a critical eye to your own work, especially when you have such a close connection to virtually every sentence on the page. That’s why it’s so important to approach the second, third and fourth drafts with patience, objectivity and a game plan.
Every writer has his or her own approach to editing. Here are some general guidelines to keep you focused as you break out your red pen:
DISTANCE OPENS THE MIND. Set the work aside for as long as you can. This may mean weeks or months away from the project. When you return, you’ll find that errors and weaknesses are suddenly clear as day
FOCUS ON THE STORYLINE FIRST. Look at the work as a whole and search for missing links in the plot. Does the story progress at a good pace with the appropriate amount of conflict and suspense? Does each twist and turn make logical sense?
MAKE THE CHARACTERS JUMP OFF THE PAGE. There are a number of ways you can enhance character development in the editing stage. Tweak the dialogue to perfection. Add more descriptive actions to reveal new personality nuances.
SEEK OUT INCONSISTENCIES IN STYLE. Look for unsuitable moments that interrupt the flow of the read. Pay extra attention to ensure your narrator’s voice is constant and appropriate.
FIX THE LITTLE THINGS. For many writers, this is the easy part, especially compared to the above steps. Aside from typos, there are a few things to keep your eyes on while you comb over the work word by word.
REPETITIVE WORDS. Many writers are guilty of using some of the same words over and over, without even realizing it. Vary your verbiage with the help of a thesaurus.
MIXED METAPHORS. Similes and metaphors can be powerful tools when used appropriately. Try not to overuse these techniques or apply clichéd symbolism throughout.
AWKWARD SENTENCES. If you stumble as you’re reading along, you may have come across an odd sentence structure that is likely to catch your reader as well. Read your work aloud if you question the viability of the word order.
PASSIVE SENTENCES. Passive voice is a sure sign of an amateur writer. Make sure your sentences are structured as subject-verb-object.
COMMA OVERKILL. Break up your paragraphs with a fair share of simple and complex sentences. Don’t forget to explore alternative comma options like semi-colons, parenthesis or a dash.
It’s important to note that “editing” is different than “proofreading.” The business of editing involves content driven decisions that impact the overall flow and meaning of the work. Proofreading, on the other hand, is in the details – catching the typos, punctuation problems and small grammar errors. By the time you finish editing, you may be too close to the work to catch these things. Hire a proofreader to do this for you, once you’re confident that every word is final.
It’s true; editing is backbreaking work. Some of the best novels and screenplays have been reworked so many times that the final draft is actually a far departure from the first. Still, when you concentrate on growing and evolving your writing to a place where the published work seems effortless to your readers, it’s well worth it.
Tips and tricks to editing your own work.