I learned a great deal about editing during my years at Hollins, and I hope to continue learning the best way to edit. The truth remains that it’s easier to edit someone else’s work. It’s hard to see what needs work in your own projects. Here are some tips I hope you can keep in mind when editing either your own work, or someone else’s.
- Be patient. Drafts are hard. Drafts make us want to cry. Drafts are the devil. Drafts are also necessary to get us to the final project. Be patient with yourself. Be patient with the author if you are working on someone else’s piece.
- Don’t expect perfection the first time. Don’t expect it the second revision either. Maybe not even the tenth. Authors often get jammed up in their head and don’t end up writing because they think it has to shape up perfectly as it’s being written. The moment you let go and embrace the inevitable imperfection, the easier your writing will come to you.
- Do read out loud. Short pieces especially. For novels, try as much of it as you can, but especially if you have a rough part you can’t get through. If you start tripping up when you’re reading it aloud you’ll focus in on the parts that are sticking. Also, if you read it aloud you experience the story in a different way and it may trigger something to help you through the tough patch.
- Have someone else read it aloud to you. It helps to also have a fresh set of eyes reading it aloud. You will hear where they get stuck and/or where things are smooth.
- Expect multiple revisions. This is sort of the same as don’t expect perfection the first time, but slightly different. There will be different things that pop up as you go along your drafts. Welcome the revision process and expect there to be multiple versions before you find the perfect one.
- Focus on one thing at a time in each revision. Easier for shorter pieces, but you can do the same by chapters for longer works. Read it through for punctuation. Then read it through for adverbs. Then read it through for dialogue. Then read it through for setting. Then read it through for…etc. Don’t try to catch everything all at once, you will more likely miss more things doing it that way.
- You can walk away for a bit. I have heard/read authors saying you have to work on a piece until it’s finished. I only agree to an extent. If you are stuck and your brain is screaming at you every time you so much as think about the piece, walk away. Go for a walk. If you have it printed, stick in in a random, out-of-the-way place. Blare some music. Come back in one day, two days; however long a time-crunch will allow. Sometimes you absolutely need to give your mind a rest, and that’s okay.
- Accept criticism as either a way to help you, or something to let go. Don’t take any of it personally. On the flip side, as an editor, sometimes it’s hard to allow the author to have the ultimate decision, but remember they are the creators.
- Find ways to focus your mind before you edit. The variety of rituals authors have before they write are endless. Treat your editing time with the same respect. The editing process is just as important as the writing. Find ways to get into a good head-space for it.
- Focus on the good stuff, too. Highlight where you or the author nailed it. Add comments, or high-give yourself when a scene is written to perfection. Allow a smug smile when you read a character you wrote that would make your rival writer green with envy. Don’t just focus on what was wrong, note what was right and why. If you know what is working and why, it might be easier to fix what isn’t.
That’s all for now. Keep smiling and enjoy the process. It’s worth it in the end.