Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Three-Step Process for Self-Editing

This summer has been the Season of the Edit. In addition to prepping the manuscript for DEAR ALDERONE for release this November, I edited several client's books, my pre-Arthurian novel, and a major project for my VIP client.

I confess: I LOVE editing. I love working with the raw clay of the original words and molding it into something worth making permanent. But I have discovered that many writers don't share my editing zeal. 

I present my editing process -- a three step method of polishing the words you've written until they shine. It's fast and relatively painless. And (dare I say it) it can be fun!

Phase 1:  Read as Your Rival (The Content Commentary)

Read your own work as if a rival writer penned it. 

Write down observations about text inaccuracies, awkward construction, non-sequiturs, redundancies, clarity problems, formatting, and overall execution. Then write specific suggestions for how you (the more gifted craftsperson) would fix the flaws.   

Be sure to also note strengths – those sections that are particularly well-crafted, moving, or memorable.

Reading as if reviewing a competitor’s work tends to make it easier to get "picky" with the piece.  It helps to assess consistency of voice and conduct a general evaluation of things like tense, agreement, parallelism, sentence and paragraph construction, and spelling.

During the commentary, only make notes.  Comment on the entire project, identifying strengths and weaknesses and mercilessly mining for inconsistencies.

Phase 2: Take the Notes and Take Action  (The Rewrite)

When the commentary is finished, review the notes that result and act upon them.  Rewrite until you get it right.

Address every concern raised in the commentary notes.  In addition, conduct a line-by-line edit that would make your 10th grade English teacher proud:

·      Rework passive sentences into active ones. 
·      Replace linking verbs with verbs of substance. 
·      Delete adjectives and adverbs without remorse. 
·      Identify static characters and give them arcs. 
·      Surprise your characters more often. 
·      Eliminate overused words and phrases. 
·      In other words – make creativity take a back seat to craft for a while.

Phase 3: Proof

The final phase – the proof -- is concerned primarily with the manuscript's adherence to proper English usage.

Beginning a proof edit assumes that any glaring errors in logic, plot, or characterization have already been dealt with.  This step is really about making sure all i's are dotted, t's crossed, and things like periods, commas, and apostrophe S's are used correctly.

Commentaries, rewrites, and proofs.  Each is an essential part of the editing process. Done correctly, they can help you analyze your work more objectively.  Then it’s up to you to roll up your creative sleeves and polish your prose until your soul shines through.