Advice from the Editing Trenches

Before I start today, I just wanted to let you know that I’ll announce the Paying Forward Award winners next week. As soon as they’ve all contacted me. 

In the mean time, I’m still editing. Sadly, though, these are the boring sort of edits. Those where you’re having to pick up on small stuff and fix them, since the bigger issues have been sorted out. 
Since that’s on the forefront of my mind, I guess I should do a quick and easy post about it. Sorry. Crazy cool writing stuff’ll return to this blog soon. I promise. I just need to get out of the next two editing rounds, since the deadlines (while fair) are closer than I’d like to think. 
So…

How to edit:

Most people start pulling out their hair at the mere mention of edits. It’s just one of those unbelievably huge chores that a writer has to go through. Even I get chills before I start, and I love editing. It’s just that it feels so daunting… 
But today, I’ll share a few general tips on how to get through editing in one piece.
The key is to focus on certain things at a given time. If you’re going to try everything at once, you’ll drive yourself nuts and miss a lot. The list below is my editing method. 
As usual, I don’t think of is as a hard and fast rule, but it’s worked for me, so I thought I’d share…
1) Always always always give your work a break. After you’ve finished a draft AND after ever editing round. The longer the break, the better. It’ll be what you need to get some vital distance between you and your work. 
2) Never clean up the small stuff before the big stuff. If you do and find a big problem after polishing, you’ll need to possibly delete page on page of your hard work. There’s also the fact that fine edits done too soon is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. So find characterization issues, plot holes etc. first. Always work from big to small. Even in each separate editing round. It might happen that you find another big issue when you thought you could move on to step three. Sort out the big issue first.
3) Once you have big problems sorted out, you can start with the smaller stuff. This is when you rearrange paragraphs or swop around chapters without affecting the story-line. Basically to make the story look prettier. 
4) Finally, you start polishing (which is where I am now). This is where you need to look for those small little annoyances you couldn’t spot before because you were busy with other bigger issues. Clunky sentences, repetitive wording or sentence structures not varying enough, finding better and stronger words etc. 
5) Repeat the above four steps until you’ve done more than one pure polishing edit. Keep polishing your work in progress until you really can’t see anything else to fix.
In the above, you can use an editor and/or crit partner as well. I just strongly suggest that you do some edits yourself, first. Otherwise you might just be wasting your time. 
If you’re new to editing and have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments. 
If you’re an editing veteran, what’s your best editing advice? 
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19 thoughts on “Advice from the Editing Trenches

  1. Yeah, I'm editing right now. I guess the hardest part for me is being patient with myself. I want it done now, and I get frustrated with myself when I miss stuff that seems obvious. Do you have that too?

  2. Can't wait to see who won!
    And it's official, I do most of that wrong. In my defense, by the time I finish writing the first draft, I've forgotten the beginning. I enjoy the editing phase though which might also make a difference.

  3. “Boring” editing??? Perish the thought! 😛

    Some good tips, though, and editing isn't glamorous, by any stretch…but it has to be done.

    Best of luck with them!

  4. I remember thinking, when I got down to making decisions over single commas, that I was probably done. And when I started moving those commas back to their original places, I handed the MS over and said 'No more!' 🙂 There's light at the end of the tunnel, Misha!

  5. The good news… over time the edits get less and go faster. But it's true that you can't pick up on everything in one sweep. I'm all for the separate the checklists and go at it in turns.

    Another great final check is to use the freeware calibre to convert your document into a digital file you can upload to your ereader.

  6. That's all excellent advice – especially doing it in stages so it's a little less daunting.

    Editing can feel like a negative task so I try to remember that taking out a wrong word, or section, is as creative in its way as putting in the right one.

  7. I edit as I go, since I hand write everything and then enter it into the computer. I can be writing the first draft and editing at the same time. I try to catch the big mistakes before doing the line edits though.

  8. Hi Misha,

    Superb advice for aspiring and published writers. My editing is often overseen by Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar. Tells me stop using the conjunction word “and” too much because it weakens the sentence and yes it can actually turn a sentence into a run-on sentence and that's not good.

    I shall take the liberty of sharing this, yep even on Farcebook! 🙂

  9. Hey Misha, I am going to start editing my junowrimo novel tomorrow. Thanks for the tips. I'm going to start with going through the entire MS and make a list of the edits needed, then make them and work on polishing. I figure if I have a list to cross off, it won't be so daunting. It may actually be fun.

  10. I'm like Alex. I enjoy doing editing passes. It's nice to go through and read the story at near-regular speed, sort of a reward for all the hard work.

  11. I've been working on polishing all week and have been pulling my hair out piece by piece. Sadly I'm almost bald now but at least I made it through the manuscript.

    Great advice!

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