Monday, March 31, 2014

Seven Things I’ve Learned About Editing

Since signing my first book contract in 2009, I’ve worked with some excellent editors. The result of interacting with them is that I’ve learned how to reduce the amount of time I spend writing and editing a novel. I’ve listed the top seven things I’ve learned below and hope they will help you as you go through the process.

1.    Don’t gloss over solutions: In one of my novels, my female lead is abducted.  The men who commit the crime are eventually caught, but I forgot to mention how the police tied that crime to the heroine’s uncle, except to say that he knew his accomplices would rat on him to save themselves.  I eventually fixed that plot thread having reminded myself that it’s better to take time to write in small details that will complete the story and leave the reader satisfied, rather than glossing over the situation and risk leaving unresolved plot points at the end of the book.

2.    Never stop learning: On reviewing another manuscript, I saw that the editor added a host of commas. While the manuscript was with her, I’d done some reading on the use of commas and also did another edit. I’d put most of the commas in, so I was able to cut down on the amount of insertions I had to do when she sent the ms back. I believe that as long as I’m writing, I should be reading craft articles and books that will help improve my skills.

3.    Beware improper document formatting: Somehow, I ended up with stubborn extra spaces in what was supposed to be a double spaced manuscript.  My writing pals gave advice which should have helped me get rid of the extra lines, but didn’t.  I wrote in both Word 2003 and Word 2007, so I’m not sure at which point the file might have been corrupted.  After half a day spent deleting spaces, I decided I would work in one place with one format to avoid that kind of horror again. 

4.    A manuscript is never, ever complete: no matter that at some point, usually after the 50th or so read, the novel-in-production feels as if nothing can possibly be out of place.  I’ve learned that I’ll never cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’, but I try to come as close as I can to submitting the perfect best possible manuscript every time. Smart writers know how to let go and move on. Not-so-smart ones like myself edit even when reading the finished product.

5.   Spare some ‘hads and ‘wases’: Unpublished writers in a workshop setting tend to be hard on each other for the dreaded ‘was’ and the loose use of ‘had’, but sometimes there’s no getting around them.  In the past, I avoided using these two words to the point where my sentences sounded unnatural.  I’m not advocating going overboard, but there’s nothing wrong with making use of ‘had’ and ‘was’. There’s a reason they’re part of our language.

6.    Relax and enjoy the ride: I never pressure myself into making a daily word count, or writing/editing for a certain amount of time. When I’m ‘in flow’ with a novel, I write as the story comes from brain to fingertip. There are also times when I edit for months at a stretch and write nothing new. I’m not advocating this method for anyone else; however, for me writing won’t be a pleasure if it starts to feel like work—even though I’m handling my writing as a business. The point is to find your own rhythm and make it work for you.

7.    ‘Never write down to the reader.’ I received that bit of excellent advice from a writing coach. ‘Always assume the reader is more intelligent than you are,’ he added. I remember this gem whenever I’m tempted to go overboard with details that should be clear to my readers.

What bit of advice have you received that has helped you in the editing process?

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Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I never feel my manuscript is complete. I just have to stop working on it at some point!

J.L. Campbell said...

True that, Alex. We do have to let go when it feels right.

Pat Hatt said...

Agreed, always something, never ever will be complete

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Since I format books for a lot of authors, I see improper formatting all the time. Word does wonky things to a document.

Michelle Wallace said...

I'm busy with edits at the moment. Will certainly keep these tips in mind.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Excellent list. I should be busy with edits, but I'm using the excuse of a sick desktop to get some IWSG A-Z work done. That's fair, eh?

Mary Aalgaard said...

we need to keep in mind that it is an ongoing process. I also like your line about always learning. Yes, indeed!

J.L. Campbell said...

Pat, I think it's because of our creativity why we can never write a final full stop.

Diane, I've been frustrated a time or three by Word.

Hey, Michelle, hope all is going well.

Joylene, I need to join you and yes, it's good to stay occupied.

Mary, I tell folks, I learn new stuff everyday.

Christine Rains said...

Excellent advice. I never feel my manuscripts are perfect either, but at least I do feel they get better.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Great tips on Editing!! It's interesting you had trouble between Word 2003 and 2007. I'll have to watch that.

simple girl..... said...

I am just a newbie blogger but nevertheless interesting tips on editing .. :) ..

Ida Thought said...

Can it still be called a manuscript if it's sitting in the corner gathering dust for over a year now. I've never heard about the 'had' and 'was' angst. I might use that as an excuse to wipe off the dust... :)

debi o'neille said...

Thanks for posting this article. I just shared it on Facebook because it's that helpful. People, writers, should see it.

S Myers said...

As a newish writer, I've had to unlearn what I was taught at the beginning and start adding back in 'had' and 'was' and adverbs and everything that was making my work too succinct and characterless. Of course, all those things in moderation!