Editing Your Work

Over the many years that I’ve been writing fiction, the most important lesson I’ve learned is to self-edit my work. Thoroughly edit, word-by-word, period-by-period, mercilessly edit.

Whenever I check through Amazon to find something interesting, I always ‘Look Inside’. For no matter how compelling the back-cover blurb, no matter the five-star reviews from friends and family, it’s how the book reads that is most important to me.

So I look inside. And here’s my problem. MOST self-published books are – to me – unreadable. Poor formatting, typos, careless spelling mistakes, poor grammar, style of an 8th grade student, stiff dialogue, overblown adverbs and adjectives, too much back-story, endless exposition, no forward motion …

Any one of these faults will stop me cold.

Any of these faults can be repaired.

Those books need an editor. And the first editor is YOU.

Here’s the thing about editing. If you write a novel, but disdain the editing step because (a) it’s too much bother, (b) it’s not important, (c) it’s too expensive to hire an editor, (d) the story itself will carry the day, or (e) the publisher’s editor will fix everything…

Then all your work on this precious manuscript has gone for nothing.

If you hope to find a publisher, no point in telling yourself that the story will carry the day. If it is badly edited, the acquisitions editor will not read past the first few pages. Nor will he tell you why you’ve been rejected: you’ll get a form letter, “Thanks, but this is not for us.”

If you self-publish in that raw form, you will have a hard time to find and hold a reader. AND – worse – readers might avoid your name in future.

There are a lot of good stories out there not being read because of bad editing.

Before it leaves home your manuscript should be perfect.

“Perfect?” you say. “Nothing can ever be perfect!”

No. But oh, we can try.

Here is my daily routine. I write all morning until I run dry. Then I carry on with the rest of my day. The next morning I start by editing the text that I wrote yesterday. Word by word, period by period. This is where I delete useless adverbs and adjectives, check each word for its exact meaning, replace vague words with specifics – for example, a ‘car’ becomes a ‘Chevy’ or a ‘limousine’ – IF it improves my intention in that place. I try the sentence with and without each comma, play with the word order, make sure that certain elements of the sentence belong together, or read better in a different order. Word by word, sentence by sentence I catch the typos and misspellings. I even check for double spaces and correct them to single spaces. There are no double spaces in today’s manuscript.

By the time I have rigorously edited yesterday’s work, I am back in the atmosphere and action of the story, and without pause I begin to write forward.

And so it goes until the first draft is complete.

The next step is to revise; but that’s another story.

The last step before sending your baby out to the world is – guess what! A FULL LINE EDIT, word by word, period by period, from page 1 to the end.

In answer to a journalists’ question, Einstein once said (to paraphrase), “Genius is 10 % inspiration, 90 % perspiration.”

We are writers. Maybe geniuses but probably not. Writing is our job.

Good writing is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration.




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