Editing. Does it ever end? Maybe if we have an apocalypse—where we writers would be too busy scrambling to save our skins or ambling down The Road trying to hide from lawless survivors. Or, would we take time out from the metaphorical red pen if compelled to compete with Katniss in The Hunger Games?
Nah. Being writers who want to get our work published, we’d probably just turn the arena into a battlefield of dangling modifiers, unnecessary adverbs, overwrought adjectives, and just plain old unnecessary words aka “fat.” Yes, in editing mode, we writers are fat trimmers. Read more
I’m always looking for ways to step back from my own writing so that I can see it more objectively through the eyes of a reader.
One way I do this is by editing for various elements, including what I like to call “sticky words.” I call them sticky because — for better or worse — they stick in my mind when I read them.
Without trying to be too analytical, I take a colored pen or pencil and circle any words or sentences that strike me or stop the flow. I might not know why they hit me a certain way, but I’m trying to follow my instincts.
The sticky words and sentences might indicate:
- Overwritten text or purply prose. In this case, I fix these sentences by rewriting or deleting them. Read more
Are you deep into revisions? Maybe you know you need to cut a few of your little darlings. Or maybe a few thousand? Whatever the case may be, here is one technique from Jane Yolen, the legendary children’s and young adult author.
Take a chapter of your manuscript and break it up into breath spaces as though it were a poem. Read more
You know all that time you spend reading other people’s work? It can make you a better writer.
Everything from proof reading to content editing improves my skill. A couple years ago, I spent an intense weekend editing a manuscript for a friend who was on a tight deadline. When I went back to my day job on Monday, my brain felt as if it had undergone a huge shift, as if it had gone to boot camp and come back with new strength and stamina. I attacked my work with extra clarity and insight.
When we read and critique someone else’s work, we can see it in a different way because we aren’t close to it. This kind of editing reminds me of what I should do with my own writing and makes me appreciate even more the attention others give my work. It’s like reading literature to become a better writer but with a slightly different, more active twist as I mark up the pages with notes to the writer.
These are some elements I spot, and accordingly, can apply as I revise my own manuscript. Maybe you can use these as part of your revision checklist:
Repetitious content. With all the shuffling that goes on during revisions, it’s easy to repeat scenes or similar information in more than one place. This is one of those areas that’s easy for me to spot in other writers’ work, but difficult for them to see. Read more
Writing workshops. Seminars. Weeklong Retreats. Self-help books. MFA programs. Online classes. I’ve done them all. I consider myself a lifetime student of my craft, a connoisseur of writing classes. At first, everything seemed new and fresh—a magical land of writerly ways and secret handshakes. Over time, I learned and grew. I became more selective. I’m still an eager student of the writing craft—I just don’t rush at everything like a new puppy. Still, every once in a while, I find a class that gets my tail wagging again…
One such class, taught by writer and Goddard College faculty member Nicola Morris, was on the theme of re-visioning. We were told to bring a few pages of a completed work to class. Nikki explained that as writers we were either building up our work like a sculptor or breaking down our work like a wood carver.
Our first exercise was to be the sculptor—to take a page of our written work and, after each sentence, insert two new sentences. Excuse me? She wanted me to expand it by two-thirds? How was I supposed to add that much new material to my finished masterpiece? Read more
As a journalist, I discovered a good way to revise copy is this two-step method. First I print out the pages (sorry trees) and read them to myself. Then I read them out loud.
Sure, I make edits when I read copy on my computer monitor, but when I print my pages, it’s as if I’m telling my brain to go into revision mode. I “see” things in a new way. And when I read my work aloud, I hear how the writing sounds — it helps me test the consistency of the narrative voice and hear how the sentences flow.
Our brains are exceedingly proficient at compensating for how something should read, making it easy for us to gloss over a typo or wrong word. This explains why you can ask five people to read your manuscript and still find that an error or three slipped through.
Read your printed copy out loud and to yourself for these benefits: Read more
So much of writing is actually revising. Whether you’re writing a poem, science fiction novel, essay, memoir or short story, writing and rewriting is where you fully discover your story and add emotional meaning and depth to your work. Revision is where you have epiphanies about your characters, see new themes, find ways to add symbolism and more. Author Anne Lamott illustrated this idea when she said:
“When I was a young writer, I was talking to an old painter one day about how he came to paint his canvases. He said that he never knew what the completed picture would look like, but he could usually see one quadrant. So he’d make a stab at capturing what he saw on the canvas of his mind, and when it turned out not to be even remotely what he’d imagined, he’d paint it over with white. And each time he figured out what the painting wasn’t, he was one step closer to finding out what it was.”
Whether you plot and plan out your book before you type the first word or just dive right in, you’ll find rewriting a necessary part of the writing process as you figure out what your “completed picture” looks like. The elements below can serve as a mini checklist or starting point as you work through scene revisions. Read more