Editing is more than a formality; it’s the bridge between raw thoughts and a polished masterpiece. Even so, there is no single method to approach editing. Everyone has their own style of getting things done, whether it is editing as you write, at the end of each chapter, or once a project is completed. To upgrade your editing and quality of writing, here are some steps to consider.
1. Finish Before You Edit
You may be tempted to stop your writing momentum to edit in the middle of a writing session. For some people, this works. But for the majority of writers, it is a distraction that can easily set you back.
Writing and editing use different parts of the brain. Jumping quickly between the two can be confusing and tiring. To keep your momentum, try to only write while you’re writing and only edit while editing. It sounds easy, right? But it can be difficult to stop that impulse.
Remember that the drafting stage welcomes imperfections. They are creative doorways to new ideas and innovation. Give yourself the freedom to write imperfectly and edit to perfection once you have a finished piece of work.
Tip: Use markers or notes for sections you’re uncertain about. Return to these once the initial draft is complete.
2. Distance Yourself
Once you’ve finished the drafting stage, give yourself a breather. Whether it’s several hours or several months, set aside your manuscript. Take time to clear your mind so that you can return to it with fresh eyes and new ideas.
In the meantime, you could give your manuscript to a friend, family member, or writing partner to read or edit. These people can offer you constructive feedback, ask questions, and highlight areas in your story that you might not have considered before.
Tip: Encourage honest feedback. Set aside defensiveness to understand their perspective fully and remember that even though this is personal for you, criticism isn’t a personal attack.
3. Practice Makes Perfect
The more you edit, the better you’ll become at it. If anyone you know asks for an editing favor for a manuscript, essay, or document, consider taking it up! This will expose you to different writing styles, strengths, and weaknesses and hone your editing skills.
If you do accept editing requests, make sure you read the piece from beginning to end before editing. This allows you to understand the content as a whole – style, flow, pace, narrative. If you go in blind, you’re likely to make editing errors due to a lack of context or understanding.
Tip: On the first read, resist the urge to make corrections. Instead, make broad notes on sections that might need revision.
4. Editing vs. Proofreading
Editing focuses on the heart of a story. Its purpose is to strengthen the narrative, clarify ideas, and make sure everything flows logically and consistently. Editing helps smooth out the bumps in your story and makes your characters believable.
When editing, it’s important to stay attuned to the target audience – what do they like? What cultural themes resonate with them? Do they have a specific reading level or language rating?
Proofreading often comes after editing. It focuses on spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors. Its purpose is to present your work with a polished, professional look.
Because of how intertwined their processes can be, a little bit of proofreading happens while editing and vice versa.
- Edit digitally. This way you can make big revisions while keeping the original text in a different file.
- Track changes. Use tracking software to keep track of the edits you make. Then you can go through it later to accept or delete the edits you made.
- Change formatting. Changing the size, spacing, color, and style of the document text can trick your brain into looking at text from a new perspective.
- Work in several short blocks of time. It can be difficult to concentrate if you need to focus on huge walls of text at a time. Short, focused intervals can increase your efficiency and attention to detail. Use techniques like the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working intensely for 25 minutes followed by a 5-minute break.
5. Prioritize and Detail
Before you start, make a list of the primary errors you want to look for. Then, tackle each item at a time. If you’re working digitally, you can do a document-wide search for errors and fix them simultaneously. Focusing on problems one at a time helps keep you focused and makes sure you catch everything.
- Keep the latest style guides and grammar manuals handy. Bookmark trusted online resources for quick access.
- Look up what you don’t know. The more you look up, the more you’ll learn and the less you’ll have to reference in the future.
- Circle punctuation marks. This way, you’ll have to ask yourself if each one is correct or needs changed.
- Run it through spell-check and grammar-check. They won’t catch everything, but they will help you with the most obvious mistakes.
- Double check word choice fits the text. You don’t always need the biggest word. In fact, you often want the simplest word that gets your point across.
- Be willing to cut things out. Whether it’s a sentence, a paragraph, a scene, or an entire character, you need to be willing to cut whatever hinders the development of your story.
- Pay attention to formatting. Make sure font type, size, bold, italics, spacing, indentation, and titles are consistent throughout.
6. Read Out Loud
Vocalizing creates a natural rhythm. Reading your work out loud can help you identify issues with wording, awkward phrasing, and errors in sentence length. While you read aloud, you can note down places that don’t sound right and review them later.
Tip: Record yourself reading your work, then play it back. This can offer an even fresher perspective.
7. Example Editing Process
Everyone has their own steps for editing. But if you’re struggling to find your flow, consider trying this out:
- First time: Read through the entire text and get a feel for the story.
- Second time: Go through it again, but this time focus on the substance – are there any big issues, like plot holes or inconsistent characters?
- Third time: Be particular about word choices and sentence structure. Focus on making the text easy to read.
- Fourth time: Now proofread your text. Check grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting. Read it out loud to consider word choices.
- Fifth time: Ask others for feedback on the text. This time through, incorporate any feedback you want to add and give your work a final polish.
Tip: After each phase, take a short break to reset before diving into the next.
How much you focus on editing can profoundly impact the quality and impact of your writing. By employing a strategic and thorough approach, you not only correct errors but make the narrative alive and memorable for your readers. Remember, a well-edited piece is often a well-received piece.