Editing is a dirty word for some, but for me, it’s the best part of writing.
It’s where ninety-five per cent of my effort goes (if not more), and it’s the part I can get lost in. A little too lost, sometimes.
I wish I’d known a few more things about editing my own work when I started writing, because I spent years trying to perfect sentences, paragraphs, scenes and chapters, yet I didn’t have a clue that some of my stories had bigger problems.
It was a classic forest and trees problem.
I had the editing part down, but not the story part. In short, I didn’t know how to edit for story.
Therefore, my advice to my younger self: Don’t start editing words until you’ve edited for structural issues.
That’s not all I needed to learn. Here’s some more fantastic advice I wish I’d known when I started writing:
“So, so many words can be deleted. I promise there will be another opportunity to use them later.” L. K. Evans
“No matter how many times you go through it, there will still be something an editor will pick up that will have you facepalming and wondering how you could ever be so stupid.” Ann Smyth
“I finally realised that the Rules of Writing are actually just guidelines, not hard and fast rules.” Roland Boykin
“Other people will always pick up things you won’t, so another perspective is crucial; preferably six or seven or ten if you can. If different people are saying the same things about your work then it needs some changes.” Mark Mercieca
“Add your text to a read back app on a computer or mobile device. Follow along on paper to mark the errors in spelling.” Glendon Perkins
“Keep notes to help remember if it was the ‘right hand or left hand that was burned’ later on in the book. Use this for characters and places and named objects.” Keith Keffer
“No matter how good of an editor you are for other people’s work, you will never give your own stuff the same diligence. I find myself overlooking simple things like typos much less giving my work the angry red pen that it really needs.” Colin Ritter
“Get Adobe Acrobat to read your stuff back to you (albeit in a robotic voice). You’ll notice missed/duplicate words, bad sentence rhythm, etc. more easily. If you read it aloud yourself, you may still miss things as you’ll read what you think is there. The computer won’t make that mistake.” Ann Smyth
“Use word count analysis to pick up spelling differences in names etc.” Mark Mercieca
“Know when to stop and pass it off to someone else. If you are on your fifth pass through and you find yourself second guessing what you wrote, hand it off.” Keith Keffer
“There are several things in life for which no amount of preparation will match the actual task, editing is one of these. Make it as much fun as possible because one edit is not enough.” Chantelle Griffin
“When you finally get around to writing a novel, you’ll discover its fun, until editing begins. The countless revisions (i.e. self-editing) is where it gets tough – and the author emerges. Outsourcing is recommended, especially proof-reading.” Karen Wyld
“Always read your work out loud. It means you read a little slower, and you can pick up on issues like repetition, syntax and rhythm that you may otherwise miss.” Angeline Trevena
“Write what you love (what you know will come), read it aloud (and repeatedly) because if you don’t want to, you KNOW something’s wrong; start strong (and then live up to that); and seek advice (then fight it).” Will Hahn
“When you get to the point when you’re changing a word, then changing it back, it’s time to stop.” Ann Smyth
“Edit in a different medium than you write, such as e-reader or paper.” Keith Keffer
“There is no such thing as great writing, only great rewriting.” John Skeats
“Text to speech is a great idea I wish I’d heard of earlier. The metallic computer voice is the ultimate impartial judge on your writing.” Mark Mercieca
“You have to wait before editing. Doing it the day after you’ve written a chapter will block your progress and never be good enough. It may end in an infinite loop of write and correct.” Era Metko
“Find great critique partners who pull no punches. It can be a little painful at first, but once the bandaid is pulled off it doesn’t hurt so much. And the scar makes your writing stronger.” Blanca Florido
“The best way to edit yourself is to hire an editor. Before I hire one, read it out loud, it’s a very different perspective on your work that you must have.” David Nelson
“When writing a story, you need to shut off you inner editor or you’ll never finish your work. Editing comes when the work is complete, not when you finish chapter one.” Chris Mentzer
“The best editing is done three years after you’ve lost your ms, stumbled on it again, said ‘this is really bad’ and started again. You just can’t edit your own work properly until it’s stone dead.” John Yeoman
“Take at least a few months off before making a final edit to make sure the material is no longer fresh in your mind.” Drew Briney
What’s your best piece of editorial advice?
Check out some of the other posts in the “Things I Wish I Knew About” series: Author Promotion, Point Of View, Critiquing, Dealing With Rejection, Short Stories, Creating Characters, Story Development, Worldbuilding and Writing.