Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Editing Hell: Eight Easy Tips To Strengthen That Story

Do you underestimate how much time goes into a book? Most people do. That's why it's nice to receive feedback on the writing, in addition to the story line. Today I received the highest compliment from a fellow author/editor Brody Lane Gregg who reviewed my book.


"For a small indie book, the editing was superb. Being an editor myself, I often look for those areas. The only thing I saw was some grammar issues here and there, but I believe your choice of phrasing was purely style-related, so definitely not errors in any way. It's not an easy thing to accomplish (no errors). My book was both professionally edited before submission to publication, and as an editor myself, checked multiple times, and I still believe I have 3 or 4 small errors in it." Brody Lane Gregg


Let’s just pause and bask in that glow!


This means the world to me. Do you know why? Let me tell you—it’s because after being dissatisfied with the final editing on my debut novel—I put my second book under a magnifying glass. Not literally of course, but in addition to my usual editing avenues: writers group, beta readers and my editor—I stepped up my game. No one cares more about my edits than me! So even after all the edits were said and done, I did two more sweeps and I found a ton of things that I was not happy with. Don’t get me wrong I adore my editor. She is the best, and I am grammatically challenged as you can probably tell from my blog posts, but many of the issues were stylistic and I decided that while they made it under the radar mechanically, they were slowing/dragging my scenes/plot down. Getting this compliment really validated the fact for me that I took that extra time to be an anal retentive pain in the behind. Sometimes good things are worth working for and sometimes you just need to hurry up and get it done…now back to writing Book 3.

Now here are some great tips from Ali Luke who says quality editing is the one key factor that separates mediocre writers from good ones. I happen to agree!


#1: Don’t Edit While You’re Writing

You’ve probably heard this one time and time again: don’t stop to edit while you’re writing. It’s great advice, though many writers find it hard to stick to.

It’s fine to pause and correct a typo, or restart a sentence, while you’re creating the first draft – but don’t keep going back to delete whole sentences or paragraphs.

If you really struggle to write without editing, try Write or Die, which forces you to make forwards progress by deleting your words if you stop typing for too long.

#2: Put Your Work Aside for a Few Days

Try to build extra time into your writing schedule, so that you can let your work sit before editing. With a short piece like a blog post, a day away from it – or even a few hours – is enough. If you’ve written a whole novel, try to put it aside for at least a week or two before starting the editing process.

By doing this, you make it easier to see your work afresh. You’ll come up with new ideas, and you’ll find that you can spot chapters that don’t fit, plot holes, inconsistent characterization and other big-picture problems.

#3: Read Through in a Different Format

Physically turning your words into a different format can help you spot problems or mistakes more easily. You might want to print out a blog post before editing it, or transfer your novel manuscript onto an e-reader device.

Often, it’s useful to take a look at your work in its published form (or as close to it as you can get). If you’ve got a blog post, for instance, you might use your blog platform’s “preview” function to check it out. If you’re writing an email newsletter, you could test it by emailing it to your own account. Sometimes, you’ll notice problems that didn’t stand out before, such as too many short/long paragraphs or glaring typos.

#4: Edit for Structure and Content First

Too often, writers start their editing by polishing up every sentence – and then end up cutting out huge chunks of their material later. It’s much more efficient to do your big picture editing first: that means looking for:
Chapters or sections that need to be cut out – perhaps they’re too advanced for the piece, or they’re a tangent to the main point
Missing information that you need to add in, like a whole new section or chapter
Scenes or sections that need to be radically revised

Major cuts, additions and rewrites need to happen before you start digging down into the individual sentences and words.

#5: Cut Out 10% of Your Words

Once you’re broadly happy with the shape and flow of your piece, it’s time to cut. Most writers over-write: we use more words than we need, and we weaken our argument or story in the process.

Do a word-count for your whole piece, and try to cut 10% of the words. If you’ve written an 800 word blog post, for instance, aim to cut it to 720. Look out for:
Repeating the same point several times – unless you’re deliberately doing this as a rhetorical device, it’s probably unnecessary. Trust that your reader will get it the first time.
Wishy-washy phrases like “in my opinion…” or “it is my belief that…” Occasionally these are warranted; often, you can simply cut them out.
Unnecessary adjectives. Don’t tell us “John said loudly” if you can say “John shouted”.

#6: Use Spell-Check – but Use Your Eyes Too

Always run your work through a spell-checker. That might mean using a browser plugin, or simply writing in Word or another word processing program so that you can check for red wiggly lines.

Don’t rely on spell-check to catch everything, though. Some errors will slip through – missing words are a common one, as are homophones (words that sound the same but are spelt differently, like “which” and “witch”). Sometimes, spell-check will pick up on words that are actually correct – mine has some bizarre ideas about “its” and “it’s” – so don’t blindly follow every suggestion.

#7: Read Your Piece Backwards (or Slowly)

It’s tough to proof-read your own writing: by this final stage of editing, you’re so familiar with the words on the page that mistakes just slide past you. One trick for better proof-reading is to read backwards from the end of the piece.

If you find reading backwards too awkward, then try reading s-l-o-w-l-y. That might mean running a pencil along each line as you read, or increasing the font size so that you don’t see so many words at a time on your screen.

#8: Let it Go

Finally, to edit well, you need to eventually stop! If you find yourself taking commas out and putting them back in, or rewriting the introduction one way then changing it back, then you’re done: it’s time to put your work out into the world.

If you’re like most writers, you’ll never feel entirely confident about your work.You’ll have a nagging sense that it could still be better. But perfection is an unattainable target – so settle for good enough. Even if a few imperfections remain, a published piece is infinitely more useful to your readers than a piece that sits on your hard drive forever.

Do you have a great tip for editing? Add it in the comments below…


Don't forget to check out Beyond the Skyline by Brody Lane Gregg.


Alex Lane is a hardened criminal. A misfit. A freak. When he is released from a juvenile detention center at the age of eighteen, he doesn’t know what he will do with his life. Alex does not want to return to a life of crime, but he is not sure how to change. A criminal is all he has ever been. And thus he begins his journey. Alex finds himself living with his brother and his family, a family he does not know. He also finds friends who eagerly accept him into their group of misfits. On the outside, everything seems to be going his way, but inside, Alex struggles to leave his criminal life behind. He struggles with change and with the realization that in a life absent of crime, he must give up control. He must learn that there is more to living a normal life than just choosing not to be a criminal again. Much more.

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