Saturday, October 25, 2008

How Do You Edit?

This week on The Blood-Red Pencil, Shon Bacon asked the readers how they prepare to edit. It made me stop and think about my editing process.

As I thought about the question, it occurred to me that, I believe, editing someone else's work is easier than editing my own. And it's not because I don't have a stake in the other author's work. Actually, I do. I want to help the author make the manuscript the best book it can be. I want to hold the published book in my hand and be excited about its publication.

It's easier because, basically, I didn't write it. When I start reading, I have no idea what will happen as the story evolves. I have no clue what the finale will be. I don't know the characters or their backgrounds or their relationships. Therefore, lots of things that would slip by the author stand out to me. I catch them -- or hopefully I note the majority of them.

Shon also asked what kind of environment editors set up before they begin to work.

I have to have quiet -- no music, no distractions. Around my house that means I often have to close the door to my office. I've even been known to wear headphones.

I usually take a break about every hour - to stretch, get something to eat if I'm hungry, refill my water glass, or go outside to see the sun -- or all of the above.

I not only make comments on the document itself, I make notes for me on a notepad.

Once I've read through the manuscript, I let it sit -- at least over night before I begin the second or third read-through.

For me, editing for others involves an almost clinical approach. I can't get caught up in the words or plot too much or I could read thirty pages before I realized I hadn't been paying "editorial" attention. By the third reading, I can let go and not read word for word, but read for the overall feeling of the book.

How do you edit your own work?


  1. I offered my book as a free download on my site and through Lulu, as well as gave several people a copy of it. This is what I referred to as the "alpha release" of the novel. Basically from that point on I let a fairly large group of people provide me with feedback, edits, suggestions, etc. and then incorporated these into the final edition of the book. I did this in place of a traditional one-person editor, to instead take a community approach to editing.

  2. I usually let a good amount of time pass between my drafts so I can get that kind of editor perspective you mentioned. That's the only way I can get to the point where the flaws stand out to me. I try and correct as much as I can and then I send it to a professional. I think that's the only way to be reasonably sure there are no gaping holes (and embarrassing mistakes).

    Good post!

  3. William -- what an interesting idea. Was your book fiction or nonfiction?

  4. Scobberlotcher, I do that same thing on my work. Sometimes, I can let it sit, then when I go back to read there will be passages that I don't even remember writing. Luckily, those are usually passages that I really like!

  5. I edit my ms's at least three times, with breaks inbetween of a day or two or even a week or two before the final self-edit. I use Carolyn Howard Johnson's book, "The Frugal Editor" as a textbook for real helpful tips and reminders on how to do an effective self-edit and send in the best "polished" ms you can.

  6. Do any of you use Autocrit? I find it indispensable. It higlights weak words, overused words, overused phrases, and graphs the sentence length. Since weak words usually occur in weak sentences and even weak paragraphs, just addressing the weak words ends up tightening and shortening my writing.

  7. Thank you Marvin and Mark. I'd not heard of either The Frugal Editor or Autocrit.

    I'll look for the book Marvin.

    Mark, I went to the Autocrit site. Will bookmark it to explore more. It looks like, at first glance, a membership instead of a product you buy. Is that right?

  8. Yes, you subscribe to various levels of service. The basic service is free.

  9. Helen,
    I agree that it's easier to edit someone else's work than my own. I don't know what the writer had in her mind when she wrote, but when I edit my own work, I read what I meant.

  10. Lillie, I do that as well. I have a feeling we all do!


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