Think Tank Followup: What Editors Have to Say About Editing

how do you edit?

I ASKED & YOU ANSWERED.  I'm a mental muddle when it comes to editing, so I was thrilled to get some awesome feedback on my think tank post for editing.  As promised, I'm going to showcase these answers & break them down as I've thought about them.

One thing I've found helpful when figuring out what to keep and what to cut, is to evaluate what the story would look like if you didn't have that scene. Would the story survive? Would it still make sense? If not, it's valuable enough to keep. If it's unnecessary, either cut it or alter the scene so it pulls it's own weight.

This is some of the best fundamental advice. Your story is made up of the scenes you collect + weave together, & people notice how odd it is when there is something extraneous included.  People save up the scene in their minds, waiting for the revelation of its importance...but the importance never comes - & that leaves a bad impression.

As Tracey pointed out, though, it isn't quite as simple as does this work or does this not work.  Oftentimes, scenes are obviously crucial to the plot; sometimes, scenes are obviously random & need to be hacked out.  But occasionally you'll write a scene which isn't quite what the story needs, but it could be, & you have to find a way to "alter the scene so it pulls it's own weight."  So your options are:

yes - it stays
no - it goes
renovate scene
ugly crying

I actually love the process of perfecting, and changing words, paragraphs and scenes/characterizations and details to build a richer world and picture. If you need to edit as in CUT scenes, get a third-party involved.
Also give your writing space and then coming back and reading it to oneself as if it was a novel from the library. The flaws pop up strongly at you and often one can see what should be changed.

A huge help in editing is to leave it alone for awhile. While you are writing a manuscript, you are geared into conquer-virgin-territory mode: you're ploughing ahead into the semi-unknown, often leaving a battered trail behind you.  When you are done writing, give it a rest: let your mind wind down from ex nihilo mode.  Once things have cooled, you'll have a chance to go back & look critically at what you've written.  You're in a separate frame of mind, this time for editing + refining, not blazing a trail.  Don't underestimate the importance of this break.  You need space from your first draft to be able to assess it fairly, & it's very hard to do that when you're still gung-ho for the writing stage.

...All the same, you're always going to be the writer of that first draft, & you're unlikely to completely forget what it was like writing it.  Despite your best intentions, this can cloud your judgment, so having another person look over your work, with no prior explanation, to see if the story communicates itself rationally, is SUPER helpful in getting a day-old colt of a draft on its legs.

My biggest tip is to read it aloud to myself. This helps me catch repetitive words/phrasing, and make sure it's flowing properly.

What you may or may not have caught on to yet is that I am an abysmal writer.  It's true.  When I am writing, I am 99.9% blind to "what I've done," & focused on "what comes next."  So when I happen to go back & look at my writing, I've been known to find the most outrageous mistakes in grammatical construction, & even have missed a word or supplemented an entirely wrong word in the fever of my scribbling.  And this is only with the occasional glance back: I dread to think what I'll discover when I really sit down to edit.

The problem is, your brain is really good at adjusting for mistakes when communicating to you.  Is a word missing, or a word duplicated?  Don't worry about it!  Brain's got it handled.  You won't even notice a thing.  But if you set yourself to reading out loud, you're much more forced to pay attention to the text & take care that the cadence is correct, you haven't used the same description more than once in the same page (*guilty*), your dialogue isn't as stupid as a drunk squirrel on a highway, etc.  This is definitely an embarrassing exercise, especially when you flub up as often as I do, but it's also really helpful so here's some humble pie to go with that Thanksgiving dinner I hope you scheduled time for in the midst of Nano.


thank you, ladies!  your advice is phenomenal.  <3

6 ripostes:

  1. Wonderful compilation, Jenny! I appreciated all your thoughts on each piece of advice. (I am most definitely guilty of reusing descriptions without realizing it, too!) Aaaand how ironic that my editing tip would need editing itself. I said "if not" when I think I meant "if yes." XD

    Happy editing! Do you mind if I link to this post later on this week?

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  2. you are /not/ an abysmal writer, you twit, h o w m a n y t i m e s m u s t I t e l l y o U

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  3. Tracey - GUESS WHAT I found several typos in this post after I had sent it live - and I did proof-read it! What can you do. XD

    I would be thrilled if you wanted to share this post! Your insights deserve more platforms, because editing is HARD and advice is wonderful.

    Mirriam - yes but my first drafts man they are so baaaaad. what even is grammar.

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  4. Happens to all of us, I guess! XD

    Awww, that made my day--thank you! I'll include the link in my Saturday post. ^_^

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  5. (I included the link here: http://traceydyck.blogspot.ca/2016/11/7-ways-to-write-more-words-and-read.html)

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