When I talk about editing I mean self-editing. The other kind, where smart people get an opportunity to hash over our words, phrases, sentences, grammar, syntax, chapters and big, whole messy books and get paid for it, goes without saying. It's a gift and a given. But the more we polish up our writing before it goes off to the poor overworked, trying-to-be-kind hard working editor, the happier we make her, and ourselves. Who wants to start practically from scratch after another human being has been witness to our mental chaos??
I’ve been fortunate to have some extremely talented and kind editors from several different publishers, and I’ve learned from them. So much so, I can now struggle through lots of self-editing before making a fool of myself on the up-and-down route to being published.
I think of editing as three basic steps, such as the steps needed when polishing a car, the family heirloom silver, or grandma’s hand-me-down buffet. If those metaphors are too antiquated for these modern times, think of it as applying facial cream or a special hair tonic you’ve needed for a long time and have finally gotten around to.
Step One—Apply the gobs of polish. For me, this means reading through the entire manuscript—short story, novel, non-fiction piece or whatever-- and seeing if your narrative makes sense. (You don’t want gobs of unclear action or dialogue or whatever to impede progress as others read your masterpiece.) Wherever it doesn’t make sense, highlight the offending lines on your paper copy or add a colorful bit of highlighted underlining from your “Inert” tab on your computer screen, and keep reading on.
When you’ve gone back and “fixed” those blobby elements with some basic clean-up, e.g., making the ends of your sentences the important or dramatic parts of the sentence, or being sure to leave a hook at the bottom of the page, the chapter, and wherever else it will keep people reading. Make sure to read over these corrections, including the previous paragraphs leading up to them, and the following paragraphs as well.
Step Two—Smooth on the polish so it covers the whole item, i.e., the manuscript being edited. This is your basic, almost-everybody-needs-it kind of editing. Here’s where you replace your lazy verbs with stronger ones, delete most of your adverbs, minimize your adjectives but use plenty of sensory descriptors, especially hearing, smelling, taste, touch. I get so involved in my story sometimes I mistakenly assume the reader can picture the taste and feel of that crunchy apple without me mentioning it. Or see the hero’s cute but craggy profile, or smell the stink of a poor, half-abandoned neighborhood on a hot summer’s day.
Step Three—Now that the overall polish is covering the whole work, it’s time to check the details, as you take a clean buffing cloth in hand, and start to shine that baby, while you check: your spelling and grammar, an easy thing to do if you’re using a computer; capitalizing uniformly; being doubly sure you’ve used the correct accent marks over any foreign words; calling your characters by the correct names—(I once changed Gerard’s name to Claude halfway through a novel and was shocked to find the error when I edited); check your timeline, in the case of fiction, and your research facts, in every case.. For a final touch of spit and polish, check for typos, enlisting a loyal but hard-hearted friend to do the job for you.
Think you’re done? Is your manuscript shining now? Does it follow the guidelines spelled out by your publisher? Good. Give it a few days rest if deadlines allow, then go back for a final buff—and watch that writing sparkle!
Next Friday: Writing with Fork--Some Travel Dreams