Are you tackling a writing project that isn’t a brand-spanking new novel during Camp NaNoWriMo? Good news! We’re compiling lists of everything we know about nonfiction, editing, and scripts. We revisit editing while it’s fresh in our minds from the “Now What?” Months below:
You get to the part of the novel where you think to yourself, “what now? How can I make it even better?” Well, that’s a sign for the best part to happen—the editing and revision process! Here are resources that can help you edit those inconsistent story lines and cut out those awkward scenes.
The Joys of Editing
- Why Editing Matters… Even If You Never Share Your Novel
- Time to Revise, But How Will I Know If I’m Making It Better, Not Worse?
- On Rewriting & Growing Up
- Revision & Slipping Back Into Your World
- Deductive Editing: Revising Like a Master Detective
The Steps to Editing and Revision
- A 7-Step Guide to Big Picture Revision (With Bonus Checklists!)
- Revising Your Novel: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
- The Big Bad Guide to Novel Revision
- Beginning the Awesome Journey of Revision
- Four Types of Book Editing
- On Building Better Stories and Perseverance
- Reveling with Your Inner Editor on the Revision Playground
- In Your Words: Revision Advice from Young Writers
- Why You Should Throw a Wrench In Your Editing Routine
Keep These In Mind When You Edit
- The 6 Commandments of Starting the Editing Process
- Tips from Revisionland
- Be Kind to Yourself While You Edit
- 3 Ways to Let Your Writing Fly
- What Should You Keep In Mind Before You Begin The Revision Process?
- What to Keep When Editing Requires a Reset
- Revision and Reading Aloud
As long as you have these resources, you’re well on your way to building an awesome book.
I’m editing a book right now. It is its own happy brand of hell — but, for all its hellishness, it’s also a process I dearly love because it’s like purification through flames. It’s a powerful ste…
Chuck Wendig on editing. A good read. NSFW for language, if you care.
I know that women in particular are told to be “nice,” to figure out nice things to say to people in every situation. Even if you don’t like them. Even if you really hate what they’re saying. Even if you think they are heading down the wrong road. Just nod your head, say something affirmative, and that’s the best course because you make friends that way, and no one wants to make enemies, right? It could come back to bite you.
Here’s the thing. I don’t think being falsely positive is beneficial to anyone. I don’t think making friends with people you didn’t really want to be friends with is a good idea. And even if you will generally attract more flies with honey than with vinegar, who wants to attract flies? Not me. In fact, most of the time, I’d be very happy if I attracted fewer flies. So I don’t tend to smear myself with honey.
I’m not saying that you should be mean to people for no reason. I’m just saying that there are ways to be polite without being effusive. And if someone asks you directly for your opinion, I recommend you give it as kindly as you can, but not to necessarily sugar coat it beyond recognition.
In the writing world, it’s no real help if as a critiquer, you tell someone a manuscript is great and then they send it off and no agent or editor is interested.
If you don’t have an agent and editor who tell you the absolute truth (again, kindly, with optimism if it is warranted), then how are you going to sell books to readers? Readers are not kind. Go to goodreads if you have any doubts there.
If you have friends who don’t tell you the truth about mistakes you are making in your life, you are going to just keep making those mistakes. Wouldn’t you rather live through a momentary sting and figure out how to do what you need to do? Isn’t that what a real friend does?
Love, encouragement, and hope can all coexist with honesty. I think they coexist best with honesty, in fact. So go be honest. Kindly honest, but honest nonetheless.
Whatever sort of writing you do, it’s important to revise and edit your work – especially if you write academic essays, or articles or short stories that you’ll be submitting to editors. However much time you took over the piece on the first draft, you’ll always find a few mistakes to correct.
This is the method that I’ve used for years when writing essays or short stories, to ensure they’re as good as possible before a lecturer or editor gets to see them!
Do nothing (for a day or two)
Set your work aside for a period of time – don’t hit ‘Save’ on the first draft then start again straight away on the second pass. You’ll come to the work afresh if you leave it alone for a while.
As Michael said in Write First, Edit Later:
Let your writing sit for a while. It may make more sense if you sleep on it. Or, it may make less sense after you have slept on it. At least you’ll know which.
For essays, try to allow at least a day. Short stories can sometimes need longer – your mind will carry on mulling over the ideas whilst you’re doing other things. And many novelists advise putting your novel aside for at least a month before starting the revision process.
Read over your whole piece quite quickly. Circle any typos and mistakes that you spot, but concentrate on overall flow. If it’s an essay, check for any gaps in logic or any sides of the argument you might have missed. If it’s a short story, do any passages drag – or go too fast?
Print out the first draft, and read through the whole thing, concentrating on the overall flow of the piece. Circle any typos or mistakes that you notice, but focus on the big picture.
- If it’s an essay, are there any logical missteps, points you’ve not backed up, or angles to the argument that you’ve missed?
- If it’s fiction, do any scenes drag or go too fast, and are there any plot holes or inconsistencies of characterisation?
This is the stage to sort out any big problems. I often rewrite the whole thing (especially when working on fiction), starting afresh with a blank document on the computer. If you’re better than me at getting it right first time, you may not need to do that – but you could find yourself cutting out whole paragraphs, adding in new material, and changing the direction of the piece.
After you’ve done this, you might want to ask a friend, classmate or colleague to read the piece. Tell them not to look for tiny errors like typos or clumsy sentences at this stage: ask whether they think it’s broadly OK, or if they have any reservations about the overall direction of the article or story.
Editing and proofreading
Once you’ve sorted out the big picture, you can start fixing any individual sentences and words. Again, it’s a good idea to print out the document and do this on paper: I find I miss errors on screen (especially typos which are valid words, such as “they’re” for “their”).
Look out for:
- Typos and misspellings (a good tip here is to read backwards! You’ll go much more slowly, focussing on every individual word).
- Clumsy sentences and confusing or misleading phrasing (try reading your work aloud).
- Unnecessary words (check for the ones in Five Words You Can Cut).
- Commonly misused or confused words (there’s a whole list of these in the Misused Words category).
If you’re not 100% sure about a spelling, double-check with a dictionary: try Merriam-Webster for clear, succinct definitions. When you can’t quite find the right word, using a thesaurus can help (again, Merriam-Webster is good).
Do you have a great tip for revising and editing your work? Or do you have a horror story about an occasion when you handed in a first draft with a glaring error..? Share your experiences in the comments below!
sloth-ful asked: Is there any place I can send a chapter of my writing to be critiqued?
There are a lot of different options available, many of which can be found on Google, but here are some possibilities that I know of:
If you want a professional critique and have a lot of money to spend, Writer’s Digest offers some expensive but worthwhile options. Critique Circle is a web site that allows you to upload a story (or part of a story) to be critiqued by other members in exchange for points that you receive for critiquing the work of others. Scribophile is another site that works the same way. You can also get critiques and find critique partners at Absolute Write’s Water Cooler (forum).
I’m also happy to do chapter critiques when I can. I’m not a professional editor, though—just a writer like all of you. :) If you want my two cents on your writing, please use fan-mail to send me a link to where it can be read on-line, or to send the chapter itself.
Editing and Proofreading Tips
Like most newspaper reporters, I got into the biz because a) I love writing and b) I’m pretty good at it. But it’s a sobering profession. You file your masterpiece, only to find your editor thinks it’s two dozen “tinks” shy of publishable. Repeat this scenario a couple hundred times, and you’ll find you’ve grown some thick skin. You’ve also gotten pretty darn good at self-editing. So, I’m here to impart some wisdom on the art of quickly perfecting your own workâhow to hone, trim, and morph clumsy words and phrases into a clear, concise message that will wow your audience.
Check out Caroline McMillan’s Life Hacker article on editing your own writing, it contains some great tips.
guard-of-stormwind asked: what are some ways I can replace the word ‘got’ in my story. Not for receiving things, but for phrases like ‘he got back up’ or ‘it got darker’.
This is a question of word choice, which falls under the jurisdiction of style. While I am hesitant to influence your writing style, I will show you a few examples of how I might reword the phrases you provided.
'he got back up'
'it got darker'
Sometimes all it takes is a slight shift of focus. I observe that it got darker, for example, but that wasn’t all that happened. A character’s eyes need to adjust, maybe, so I could slant my description to include that. I could talk about night spreading or falling or blooming or twilight fading or ebbing or melting.
I just figure out what I want to say very generally then rework that phrasing until it suits my style, the mood of my scene, my character’s voice, etc. Easy peasy. All it takes is practice and lots of it.
And these sorts of things are relatively easy to change during the editing process. While I’m writing along, if I notice that I’m not particularly happy with my wording (like “it got darker”), I make a note to change it later and keep going. First drafts don’t have to be perfect. That’s sort of the point!
Thanks for your question, and I hope this helps!
EDIT: Obviously, you don’t need to embroider every phrase. Not everything needs editing. This post was intended to help rework phrases you may be unhappy with, not to encourage you to make a mountain out of every molehill, so to speak.
O also weighed in on this:
You could join it with another sentence, such as:
Clarissa, having given up hope and assuming that the dog needed feeding, walked away. It got darker. Manny was still on his hands and knees, uprooting begonias, searching for his missing contact lens.
You could have just changed “it got darker” to “it darkened” or “the sky darkened” right away, of course. Personally, though, I prefer the cadence of the sentence when coupled with the begonias and the search for the contact lens.
Clarissa, having given up hope and assuming that the dog needed feeding, walked away. The sky darkened as Manny dug up his begonias, looking for his missing contact lens.
So basically, read what you wrote, and see if you can do it in a different way. Sometimes you won’t be able to. But thinking about the verb you’re using coupled with some sentence rearranging will help you escape from most of these holes. (Please note that we could have said “will “get” you out of these holes.)
One more thing, related to the word “got.” (This is a pet peeve of O’s and is only peripherally related to the conversation.) Saying “I’ve got two jars of sauce” is not correct. What you are saying there is “I have got two jars of sauce.” Just say “I have two jars of sauce.”
We hope this post GOT you out of a hole.
anonymous asked: Is it bad to find your own writing funny? I mean like laughing at your own written jokes and sarcasm?
It is only bad to laugh at your own jokes if your jokes aren’t funny. This isn’t a serious thing if, like, on the whole, your jokes are great. (I have been known to send guffaws skipping around rooms like flat stones on smooth lakes. Ha ha!)
But there are some things that I think are hilarious that nobody else does. (NB: This guffaw skipping joke is almost definitely an example of such a circumstance.) Oh well.
The reason I put in the guffaw skipping joke, though, isn’t really to make a joke, it’s to make a point about that “almost definitely” phrase in the previous paragraph. I won’t know if the joke I made is funny until loads of people reblog this post with the comment “teehee at that guffaw skipping joke.” But even if they don’t, it’s still possible that they found it funny, but didn’t reblog it and mention any particularly giggle-inflicting lines. It is also possible that people will try to save my feelings and tell me it’s a funny joke when clearly, categorically, it just isn’t.
Since I don’t really have a way of knowing how my joke will go over, I’m left with my own sensibilities. This isn’t abnormal for a writer. We often have to judge our own dialogue, description, even entire characters, all on our own. Is my story too derivative? Is my character full enough? Are my jokes good?
Margaret Atwood said this and I think about it ever time I start an edit:
You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
Basically, you as a reader of your own work have no idea what it’s like to not have weeks or months or years of character development and plot choices and jokes rolling around in the back of your head. You’re hugely biased. So you won’t know until you’ve had years of working with feedback—and perhaps you will never really know for sure—if your jokes are funny or if your dialogue is any good.
You could do as Atwood suggests and find readers who you trust to be honest with you about your jokes. At the end of the day, however, it’s down to your best judgment when it comes to humor.
But, to answer your question, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with finding your own jokes funny.
Here are a couple of posts we have on humor:
And this is our editing tag.
WRITEWORLD NOTE: This program seems like a lot of fun, but I stand by the apparently somewhat whimsical notion that writers should do their own editing. Still, quite a cool gadget. Definitely worth a look!