Edit With Excellence
Over the course of a little over a month, I wrote about writing. It became the book, The Writer Encourager. As it was focused on rough drafts, and nanowrimo, the National novel writing month, we talked very little about editing.
Today, I would like to share my thoughts on editing. I would say that, if you have the ability to hire a professional editor. This can be a wonderful thing, but it can also have challenges.
You want to make sure you hire someone who hasn’t only edited books, but edited them well. Someone who doesn’t attempt to make your book there book. Hire someone with a reputation for enhancing well, the voice of the authors they edit for.
If you are not in a position to hire a professional editor, then I would recommend, first putting away your rough draft for three days. Give yourself the gift of distance, before proceeding. It will add perspective.
Then, print out two copies of your rough draft, and put one in a drawer. As you begin editing the other copy, ask yourself three questions.
- Imagine it’s a year later when you re-read your rough draft. After a year of living with, and discussing your book, what would you wish you had added, or left out?
- What two people, who are kind but honest, whose opinions you value, can you ask to read it?
- If your book was introducing you to strangers, because it is, are you happy with what it says about who you are as a person?
Next, do a grammatical proofread. Correct any misspellings, run on sentences, and anywhere that doesn’t sound right read aloud. Have you used the same tense throughout the book?
If not, did you intentionally transition in a certain area, and if so, did you communicate it well? I also advise attempting to not overuse a word in the same paragraph. Words such as like, so, and however can easily be overused.
In the midst of doing this, don’t homogenize your writing. By that I mean, speak properly, but speak with your voice. Mark Twain’s way of writing isn’t considered perfect English, just some of the great American novels. There are important rules of grammar, and should be followed, but there are exceptions.
For example, a very great rule is, not to use four words when you use three. If this rule intersects with the rule of not using uncommon words, which rule do you follow? I could have said the last paragraph with one sentence. Mark Twain’s colloquial vernacular is unparalleled, but a dictionary may be required. Ain’t isn’t good English, unless you’re a Southern writer, but generally the words should pass the grammar test.
After the grammatical corrections, read your draft, as much as possible, not as the writer, but a reader. The problem with writers is, when there are gaps in our writing, our minds can make up the difference. If we look at it from a reader’s perspective, it will be easier to catch the weak areas.
How strong are the chapters of your book? Identify the weakest, and strengthen it. Then review each chapter, identifying problem areas, and rewriting where needed. Every area won’t need to be rewritten, some may need to be restructured. There are times a paragraph is not poorly written, but incorrectly placed.
Is each character, real or fictional, detailed enough? By the end of the book, are their motives clear? Are any of them unnecessary? Some stories have one too many characters, others have too few.
Whether you’re writing a non fiction title, or a story, is your message clear? If a leadership, self help, or instructional title, are your steps applicable? No matter how brilliant your delivery, if someone else cannot apply it, you’re grade is far from A+.
At this point, it’s time to consider the word count and page length of your book. With the accessibility of self publishing today, word count is not as essential as it was previously. A novel typically averaged around 40,000 to 55,000 words, while a novella was 17,500 to just under that. Today I would say, especially for ebooks, write enough words to completely fulfill the story, but avoid padding.
By this point, the people you’ve asked to read your manuscript and provide feedback have done so. A quick word on this, don’t be upset if it takes longer, or if you never hear back from them. There are a few reasons on this.
First, while your manuscript is a passion for you, even for your loved ones, it’s not for them. That doesn’t mean they’re not completely behind you. Only that they lead busy lives, with challenges, full schedules, and immediate time commitments.
If they don’t respond back by the timeline you’ve asked them too, which should be a generous period, I would not ask beyond once or twice. Besides their schedule, the second reason I say this, they may have not liked it, and it’s makes them uncomfortable to say so. While you can handle constructive criticism, you should never force someone to be critical if it makes them uncomfortable.
If they do respond, make them feel at ease. Thank them for their counsel. Later you can evaluate, apply it, and if not valid, make that judgement in silence. Whether you agree or not, thank them, because this has not been easy for them, and was born out of their care for you.
If you have been given feedback by two different readers or more, evaluate it with a review of your manuscript, and apply all of this as you complete your first draft. Now you have the rough draft, and first draft to compare. Which is stronger? If there are parts of both that are strong, see how to use the best parts of them both, in your second draft.
Once the second draft is complete, I would do one last review of the three drafts. This is to see if any final tweaks are needed. If they are, I would make the necessary changes. Once all edits have been completed, you are ready to take the next step for your book.
This is a twofold process, which we’ll talk about in the coming days. Today I’ll leave you with a couple of final thoughts on editing. If, you’re like me, it can seem more daunting than the actual writing, but it doesn’t have to be.
As long as you have a plan, valid, kind but honest input, and a teachable spirit. Always be willing to take constructive criticism. It is designed to build you up, rather than tear you down.
Remember editing marks another milestone, you’ve not only written, you’re a step closer to realizing being a published author. It’s a necessary process that need not be painful, given the right tools. Let me encourage you, not only to write well, but to edit with excellence.