Friday, 10 January 2014

An Introduction To Editing

Courtesy of Piotr Lewandowski at stock.xchng

I am saddened that most students are no longer taught the joys and the art of editing. I am not sure I was ever taught it at school, and it was only a personal mentor at university that tried to make me see the light.

Most university students hand in essays that have either never been edited, or have had a quick proof read which they believe to be the same thing.

And then I come to writers. I admit, I was the same at first. I do the writing, the editor does the editing. Makes sense, right?

Nein, Nein, Nein!
(studying German was one of my new year goals, thank you Duolingo for helping me). 

An editor is like a sports coach. They don't run the race for you, they just point out issues with your technique to help you get better. It is the writer's job, part of our training towards being masters, to edit our own work. It is only to overcome our own blind spots, and crush our egos into submission that an editor is for.

The practice of editing your own work is one of the best things you can do for your own writing. Trust me.

My brother handed me his last book and told me to edit it for him, write in the changes myself, and not bother him with it any more. So I did. Now I come to edit his second book and see the problem with this approach. 90% of the things I am now correcting he did again last time. If he had gone through and implemented the changes then, he would not have written them in again now.

This time I'm flatly refusing to re-write it for him. The first edit I'm going through doing no more than leaving comments for him to think about. It is the only way I will be able to break him of his bad habits. Picking out every overused adverb and finding a better way to describe the action is the writing lines on the board of being an author. It gives you a deep hatred of the problem, ensuring you never do it again.

However, as mentioned, most people have never been taught to edit, and get lost when handed back a manuscript and told to edit it. Often people think it is just a proof read.

So let me give you the basics of editing.

Editing is a three stage process. In some cases, some of these stages might be condensed together, but it is best to think of them individually. Each stage requires a different focus and different skills. Today I'm going to describe the different stages, and then in later posts discuss tactics for dragging your own work through each of them.

Stage 1: The Structural Edit

This is your big picture stuff. No one cares about typos at this stage. It is all about how well each sections leads from one to another, the pacing of the action, and whether it culminates in an appropriate climax at the right place.

As with essay writing, the order in which you tell the story is sometimes the most important part. A joke only works if the punchline comes at the end, a suspense only if the reader feels a build up of tension.

Structural editing is all about the art of leading the reader on. Learn to do this, and you will have readers, even if you never win any literary awards.

Stage 2: The Copy Edit

I like to think of this as a romance with language. It is not about how you've ordered the chapters, or about nit-picky points of grammar. Instead, it is looking at how you can best seduce the reader with appropriate points of language. It is the ripping out of clunky writing, scrapping off the cliches and worn metaphors, and buffing up the paragraphs and sentences to shine.

Each story should have its own voice, its own tone. The copy edit is where you make sure this is consistent and as clear as possible. It ranges from questioning whole styles of speech for a particular character, down to use of particular punctuation, all for the purpose of creating a more beautiful work.

If you can't tell, I'm a big fan of the copy edit. It is stretching your writing to the next level, looking at what you have written as objectively as possible and saying 'is that the best possible sentence I could come up with to express that idea?' And the more you do it, the better your writing will be next time around. Don't be led into cheap prostitution by 'easy writing', tired expressions that trip off your pen because they no longer have any meaning of their own.

Stage 3: The Proof Read

This is the final of the three edits. In an ideal world, we would all do the best possible edit we could, then have someone do a structural edit and give it back to us. We would then do the new best we could, and then have someone do a copy edit and give it back. Then we would do an even better edit and finally have someone do the proof read, which we would then go through and approve. Only after all that would we have confidence we were putting out our best work.

It is almost impossible to catch all the typos in one edit, sometimes even two. Some argue that typos don't really matter. It is getting content out, and fast, that makes the difference. And to a certain extent I agree with them. You can hold onto a manuscript too long, polishing it until even the gleams appear to be smudges, so you forever stay in a loop of adjusting your adjustments. However, if you are a writer, compared to someone who just happens to write, then there must be some pride in our work.

Now I know I probably have a lot of typos in this blog. That I accept for being able to get the information out relatively quickly. But I also don't ask people to pay for it. Just as I wouldn't pay for a dress that still had threads sticking out because they couldn't be bothered to cut them off, I think books should, to the best of human ability, be polished. They should be complete and ready to go. If I want quick disposable content, then I will go to the internet, to a blog or website. But when I purchase a book, I expect more.

You might not agree with me, that's fine. I'm happy knowing that I'm working towards being a master in my field. As every sports person analyses their last race or training session to look for just that little bit that will make them better, faster, I am learning to go over my own writing and see how I can do it better next time.

I have to admit it's darn hard at the moment when also trying to write a whole lot of new drafts, as well as editing other people's work, but who doesn't like a challenge?

In that vein, lets look at my ROW 80 goals so far.

First of all, I forgot to add to my four goals from Monday that I've also got a reading goal: to read every book on my shelf that I've never read before. When I moved I put them all into their own box, and am now picking one out ever week and a half (there are about 35 I believe) and seeing how I go. So far I started and finished My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin before 2014, and then finished My Career Goes Bung just two days into the year. I am now reading Anna Karenina, but not sure I'll be able to get through all that in 1.5 weeks while trying to move states and start a new job. So might come back to that one and do one of the lighter reads next.

Since Monday I have done none of my own writing. I have, however, sorted through all my paperwork, made and kept the various appointments I needed to sort out before leaving, caught up with my close group of friends, send out the Goodread Giveaway books for my aunt, arrange some giveaways for my father's book, and started editing my brother's second book. I hope to have the initial structural edit done by Tuesday, before I leave. (I'm also combining a little bit of copy editing, pointing out mistakes he falls into again and again, so next edit I can take it even further.)

Also, I've been listening to the podcast: The Creative Penn, by thriller author and speaker Joanna Penn. Highly recommended, as she has really interesting interviews and realistic advice for authors, or creative entrepreneurs as she calls us :D

I've also decided I need some deadlines for my work. So, to keep myself on track:
1. I'm releasing the second Five Day Writer book on Monday Feb 17th: The Five Day Writer's Bootcamp. I've finished the first draft, and just need to get in and do some serious editing. I'll be arranging pre-release copies for people who want to review it, and will run a pre-launch giveaway on Goodreads. So look foward to that.

2. I'm releasing After the Winter, my 1920's romance, for Monday the 10th of March, my birthday. I'll be having a launch party Sunday the 9th in Melbourne (and maybe one up in Brisbane if I have the interest). I'm thinking a 1920's garden party, with paperback copies of the book available. If you are interested in an invite, let me know. Also, will be doing pre-release review copies and a giveaway.

So that's it from me. Live large!

Oh, and by the way, if you need help with editing and don't know where to go, I have a number of brilliant editors on tap, just waiting to help you out. Give me a buzz at


  1. Awesome summary of editing!

    And good luck with Anna Karenina and the to-read pile. I'm doing that challenge as well - I've learned the trick is not to buy more books, which is hard.

    1. But people keep giving them to you, or recommending things that sound fantastic. And then you get stuck in Big W with nothing else to do, so just have to browse the book section, and it all goes down hill from there :D
      And I've just stalked you on Goodreads, your challenge is 200 books, which is just insane. Good luck, and if you need any suggestions let me know :D

  2. Lovely summary of what it means to write, revise, write, revise, and revise again until that story resonates. I'm just finishing such a round of edits and having somewhat the same reluctance to begin writing anew until the current wip is truly finished. And I mean that important step of simply letting go of the current project with all its imperfections.

    I also enjoyed your commitment to reading books. There may be a blog post here for me to explore what I read and why for IF the writer does not engage me, I now stop reading. But what a wonderful idea to tackle those waiting bookshelves of "I've always wanted to read this one . . . " Altogether a nicely inspiring read for another ROW80 writer. :) Beth