Love it or hate it, it has to be done. Ok, maybe it doesn’t, but not editing is just inviting shame and ridicule. I’m working to publish my first full novel, but I have years of writing academics papers, government white papers, fiction, magazine articles, and guest blog posts. So, I speak from experience when I say that unedited works look unprofessional. Why would you spend so much time and effort writing just to put out a work that robbed you of credibility as an author? Whether you’re writing fanfiction, a school paper, a fictional story, a magazine article, a blog post, or a master’s thesis, you need to edit! Good editing could be the difference between a rejection and acceptance. An A and a B. Finally achieving that dream and slogging along for another decade.
Yes, I can actually hear my mother’s voice asking “Did you proofread this first?” Yes, I’m also cringing. Never the less, it’s important.
Now that we’ve established the importance of editing, how do you edit? Everyone has a different technique. No one technique is better or worse than another. What I’m laying out in my personal technique and your mileage may vary. Love it, hate it, leave a message and tell me what method your use, I’m always on the hunt for ways to improve my own process.
Step 1: Finish writing.
Seriously. Finish writing first. No first draft is perfect. A first draft only has to exist to be “good” so don’t waste too much mental effort fixing mistakes as you go unless your typos are so bad they make your work incomprehensible. The only thing I might consider while writing is hitting that magical F7 key to spell check. But if you have your spelling/grammar check set up well, the red/green/blue squiggles will help you as you go along.
Step 2: Print yo’ shiz!
Yes, I go old school on this step. I have a hard time keeping track of where I am what, changes I’ve made, and what I’m trying to do if I start on the computer. I print every page. It wastes paper. It wastes ink. I don’t care. I can’t edit effectively on my laptop.
Back in December, I was editing Pantheon during the holidays and yes, I had 150+ loose leaf sheets of paper printed out, stuffed in a manila envelope, and I carried that bastard around on a 3,000 mile road trip so I could edit in the evenings. If it’s stupid but it works, it’s not stupid!
Step 3: Get that red pen ready!
Once I have my printed pages, I read through each page looking for spelling/grammar errors, punctuation that needs a tweak, and making notes on where plot needs a tweak or a point in my argument needs a citation. I will also read my dialogue out loud. I feel goofy doing it but you’d be surprised how many times you’re read a portion of dialogue then say “what the **** is that supposed to mean?” Make notes with your red pen. Not black or blue. Black/blue blend in too easily with the black ink of your printed words and you’ll miss small marks, like punctuation, in the next step.
Step 4: Highlights, booze, and bring the laptop back.
The next step is the worst. Find your favorite highlighter, pour a drink (if you haven’t already), and get ready to work. Now you fix all those errors you found. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are easy. Plot holes are why you have a drink. Once the error is fixed, high light over your red pen mark to know it’s fixed. Oh the heartbreak that highlighter will save later when you’re desperately trying to remember if you fixed an issue or not.
Step 5: Press F7 again!
Now that you’ve gone in an added new text, dialogue, etc it’s time to spell and grammar check again. I also recommend editing software that will scan for more if its in your budget. I’ve been using Grammarly since 2015 and it’s been worth the money.
Step 5: Save early, save often.
At this point, I hit save at least every half hour if not more often. I also back up my writing files on both an external hard drive and a cloud-based source once a week. When a manuscript is finished, I’ll burn all my files to a CD and put it in a fire safe. I’m paranoid and it’s worth too much time, effort, and money to me to lose a file because my cheap laptop decided to go to hardware heaven.
Step 6: Fresh eyes or relax.
At this point you could call it done, depending on how much you trust your own editing skills. If you have a beta reader, fellow classmate, or a professional editor, now is a great time to send your work out for a fresh set of eyes. I’m always amazed what a good beta can pick up.
Congratulations, you’re edited your work and even if it isn’t perfect, it’s better than it was!
Like this technique? Love it? Hate it? Let me know in an email, comment below, or hit me up on Twitter.
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