by Ryan Lanz
For some writers, editing strikes fear into their hearts. Okay, perhaps not fear, but some discomfort. At least a stomach ache, right?
Before you reach for the antacids, let’s discuss the different methods of editing and introduce some ways that might make it less intimidating.
Why do we edit?
I know, it’s a simple question. But as you’ve observed in some of my past blog posts, I strive to get to the root of the subject at hand. By mastering the basics, we can reach many heights (thank you, fortune cookie from lunch).
- To look professional
- To keep from annoying or putting-off your readers
- For the writer to further prove that he/she is not an amateur
- To avoid discouraging an agent, editor, or publisher from considering your manuscript
I imagine those all seem pretty obvious. The last item was particularly interesting to me, though. I’ve read many interviews where literary agents say that spelling/grammar errors are often within the top three pet-peeves. One commented that a writer can’t be trusted with a book deal if the same writer can’t be trusted with basic grammar.
Types of Editing
That also brings us to the different types of editing. I once thought this was fairly straight-forward. Ah, but the life of an editor is anything but simple. There are many types of editing that one can do. Here are some of the different categories:
- Line Editing
- Substantive Editing
- Developmental Editing
- Manuscript evaluation
- Manuscript critique
Related: Check out available proofreaders and copyeditors here.
Some editors process these terms/categories a bit differently, but essentially it depends on how detailed you want an editor to go. Sometimes, it’s just easier to pay an editor to work on your manuscript; however, you can always go the route of self-editing.
So, how do you self-edit? This isn’t too difficult on the surface, but there are a few methods that might help to keep in mind.
- Spell-check/Grammar: this is pure and simple, read it over and over until the errors melt away. This can be soul-crushingly monotonous, I know, but it’s so very necessary.
- Dialogue: speak your dialogue aloud. Genre fiction dialogue is not exactly real-life dialogue. If you listen to your friends, they don’t sound quite like people in genre fiction. For example, virtually all the stutters are removed (like uh, um, er, etc.). There is an added expectation in dialogue to be slightly more witty, impactful, and meaningful. Most real-life conversations can be filtered down to a handful of novel dialogue lines. Writers need to walk the line of using the most effective sort of dialogue while having enough realism to feel real.
- Character development: read a section with the protagonist’s POV at the beginning of the book, middle, and end. See if they all feel the same or if you can sense a progression in the character.
- Who’s talking: read a section of dialogue and try to visually skip over the dialogue tags. Is it still clear who’s talking? It’s also a fun exercise to write a scene without any dialogue tags or action beats at all, then hand it to a friend and see if that person can still sense who has the spotlight.
- Take a break: sometimes by doing another task then coming back to the project can give you a fresh perspective and you might catch errors you wouldn’t have otherwise.
- Change rooms: honestly, when I first heard this, I thought it was a bit . . . out there. But some studies say that when you change rooms, it actually resets a part of your brain. Thankfully, it doesn’t clear anything (whew), but it has something to do with starting a new task. When I hit a writing wall, sometimes changing rooms is all it takes to break through it.
- Alternate: some writers like to alternate writing days and editing days. For other writers, this would disrupt their flow. Every writer is a little bit different in this regard.
- Read the book backwards, paragraph-by-paragraph. It helps to keep you from getting caught up in the story, and it forces you to only focus on the words.
I hope there’s a little something for everyone in today’s post. Unfortunately, other than some creative tips, editing is pretty much a “just do it” type of thing. But your readers will thank you for it.
Ryan Lanz is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, andTumblr.