Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Editing as Part of Writing’ Category

Editing as Torture (it can happen, even for editors!)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Self-Editing, Writing, Writing Advice on June 14, 2020 at 11:00 am

Editing is like getting rid of weeds in a field. Even beautiful sentences like the puff of seeds pictured here need to be cut if they do not belong in the story.

Editing for editors on occasion can be torture—not when it’s someone else’s work but when it’s your own.

Why? The work seems ready when it’s written and edited a few times, but really it isn’t. What it may need is content and developmental editing in the case of fiction, or editing for major elements like pacing and tension, character and plot arcs, and setting, atmosphere, world building, dialog and repetition in scenic elements and description.

Or if it’s nonfiction or an article, the content may not be well organized, go off topic or lack transitions.

I’m editing a novel I wrote 15 years ago, “A Bar Girl’s Starry Nights,” about a cocktail waitress and an older gentleman who become friends and help each go through the Twelve Steps. I’d set it aside and wrote other books, thinking, “Oh, it’s cute. It’s my first one.”

I want to self-publish, but I’m close to having my two key projects getting agents (but not quite yet!), so I went back to it and saw I’d made many of the mistakes I’d learned to avoid or fix after the fact.

Being “Objective” in Self-Editing

It had taken experience and working as an editor to be able to be a somewhat objective editor of my own work. I read it like a reader and had forgotten what had happened and while editing, pretended it was written by someone else. I could do that, because I wrote it a long time ago, though I still will need an editor, because as many editors say, you cannot edit your own work and catch all the mistakes.

One fellow editor said some writers are pretty good at editing their own work. They can edit in steps, separating out the different elements, such as editing for pacing, marking the areas where they stop paying attention or want more detail. They can work with beta readers and writers groups to get even more feedback for revision.

While editing my novel, I saw that the first five chapters were back story with a tiny bit of plot, and I thought, this is horrible! I cut 6,800 words in the first 50 pages and first nine chapters. I wondered if I should stop, but then I thought about all the bad books I read because I have a problem with quitting. So I read.

Identifying Major Problems

I saw other problems, including a prelude that looked like I came from the Victorian era. I tried to emulate Ernest Hemingway and Charles Bukowski, just coming off of my English major high. I had two main characters, but then thought it would be clever to include 30 pages telling the story of a third character—so I removed his point-of-view chapters to turn into a short story companion piece. I over described a few things. I repeated scenic elements and plot points. I overwrote. I had too much dialog, even the silly things like “Yeah, okay.”

My first impression is this lacks tension, the characters are unlikeable, and the plot is incredibly boring. I even had a character get full description and not mean anything to the plot but only appear in one scene.

Looking Forward to Editing

But then I got to the middle and started looking forward to editing. And by the end, I’d gotten teary-eyed, feeling the big “oh no!” for one of the main characters. I realized, yes, I have something to work with. It will need a few more editing rounds, especially if I want to consider it a novel instead of a novella.

It started at 65,200 words (barely the length of a novel, starting at 50,000 or 60,000 words, depending on the source) and now is a novella at 49,200 words (a novella is about 20,000 to 50,000 words). We’ll see what happens.

Now I’m having fun with the project, because I’m acting as an editor, something all writers need. But then I’ll turn it over to an editor for that final polish.

From Crappy to Great Writing (a sample of the difference editing makes)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on May 3, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Do you ever read a book and wish you could take out your red pens and start marking up all the errors? I did just that with one page from a self-published book on self-publishing.

 

Sometimes writers just want to get their book out and start earning money, and readers love the content.

But readers who notice grammar, mechanics and the like will get caught up in the errors. And if there are too many of them, the writer loses authority. Especially if the writer is self-published.

Writers planning to self-publish or find an agent are advised to hire an editor to not only fix the errors, but to notice things that we, as writers, skip over knowing what we’ve written and believing it all makes sense.

Errors on the Page

I just read a great book about self-publishing, because I’m planning to put a couple of my books on the market. The content of “Kindle Bestseller Publishing: The Proven 4-Week Formula to go from Zero to Bestseller as a first-time Author!,” by Gundi Gabrielle, is great, and I got the tools I need, including how to launch a new book, get great reviews and please Amazon to get even more readers. I learned the steps of submitting a book on Kindle Direct Publishing and what to expect along the way.

In other words, I give this book a great review, because the content is well-organized without over explaining or skipping over anything. But I just got a little tripped up on the grammatical errors—the writer said to hire an editor as part of the self-publishing path, but maybe her editor focused on overall content and not the details.

A Before and After Sample

Here’s a sample of before and after of what good editing can bring to the page (also see above):

BEFORE: Don’t forget to add your book link to the “Review Request” page in the Kindle version and then upload/ publish again.

You will probably have to re-upload your book a few times before launch day, because there are usually corrections, additions, links not working, etc.

Also, add the book link to your website and add reviews as they come in.

Keep building buzz on all your social media, friends, family, colleagues, mailing list, forums, Facebook groups, Reddit threads, Goodreads. Anywhere you can possibly mention your book—Do it!—And spread the excitement!!

You can also add a press release, schedule interviews with relevant newspapers, blogs, podcasts, and local TV stations. Whatever can help spread the word about your book. Guest posts during launch week can also be very powerful as are daily short excerpts on Facebook to let people take part in your bestseller journey.

AFTER: Don’t forget to add your book link to the “Review Request” page in the Kindle version and then upload/ publish it again.

You will probably have to re-upload your book a few times before launch day, because there are usually corrections, additions, and links not working, etc.

Also, add the book link to your website and add reviews as they come in.

Keep building buzz on all of your social media accounts; with friends, family, and colleagues; on your mailing list and forums; in your Facebook groups; in your Reddit threads; and on Goodreads. Anywhere you can possibly mention your book—do it!—and spread the excitement!

You can also add a press release and schedule interviews with relevant newspapers, blogs, podcasts, and local TV stations. (Or it can read as: You can also add a press release, schedule interviews with relevant newspapers, post blogs, upload podcasts, and make appearances on local TV stations.) Whatever can help spread the word about your book. Guest posts during launch week also can be very powerful as well as daily short excerpts on Facebook to let people take part in your bestseller journey.

Great Sentence Structure

The main issue with this page is that the verb tenses and nouns do not align and are inconsistent in the lists presented in the last two paragraphs. Also, one exclamation mark suffices. Otherwise, the writer looks like they are in high school, doing things like putting hearts in place of the dots over the letter “i.” However, the content here is well-informed and obviously well-researched. It just needs a tweak or two.

Why Good Writing Still Matters (and crappy writing loses readers)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on April 19, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Achieving good writing is easier than trying to line up ducks on a snowy, winter day. And here in Colorado, winter extends into spring!

I started reading an article about a topic where I had the opposite opinion of the writer, and after slogging through the first paragraph, I figured I’d get the message in the second paragraph.

Quite frankly, I wanted to learn something and maybe even change my opinion or alter it in some way, since I try to be open-minded.

Stopping in the Middle

I skimmed to the halfway point, then stopped reading, because the writer never got to the point. I’m busy, even stuck indoors during the stay-at-home executive order for the state of Colorado (and other states). I just don’t have the patience for poorly written content—and I’m not alone.

In our fast-paced, fake news, article- and blog-heavy society, we don’t spend the time reading as if studying for a final or needing to absorb the content. It’s click and move on.

Achieving Good Writing

Good writing needs to get to the point right away (this excludes fiction and poetry that’s more about atmosphere and storytelling with the time and space to build plot, character and description). It needs to make apparent the theme or main topic of the subject, covering what you want to say in one to three sentences.

Good writing has a lead in, just like a news article, with a short story or a compelling detail that peaks interest. The reader wants to learn more and reads the second paragraph, or in journalism speak, the graf.

Good writing also has structure, moving from one point to the next with enough details supporting each point but not overly describing or going off on a tangent, or off topic—this loses the reader.

And good writing has transitions, so that paragraphs flow from one to the next.

Losing Bad Writing

The article that annoyed me is lost. I won’t find it again, nor did I get the writer’s intended message, because I clicked and moved on. Good writing that flows moves the writer from point to point, keeping the reader within the text. The reader stays until the end. Start to finish, that’s what you want in article absorption.

Are Editors (Really) Necessary?

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Fort Collins Startup Week, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on March 1, 2020 at 8:39 pm

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Do writers need to hire an editor to bring out the red pen? Or is better to get a self-published book out to market?

Do writers really need editors? Do they really want all that red ink and those corrections?

A self-published author I encountered at a class on self-publishing during Fort Collins Startup Week said he would never hire an editor. He said in his presentation to an audience of about 25 aspiring authors that he had several readers of his first story and got feedback and was able to publish his book for under $25 (now it’s about $125 with the cost of an ISBN). He also said he was able to make a profit right away.

Editing and Voice

I believe he has a point, but also hiring an editor gives that professional outside perspective to both improve the writing but also the storytelling.

The author said he does his own editing and artwork and looks at writing differently, where he is breaking the rules. He says it the way he wants to say it.

“Writers need to find their own voice,” he said.

I held up my hand and explained how I had good and bad experiences with editors. As a journalist, I worked with editors who changed my lead and my voice, inserting in their own voice, and that I did not consider them to be good editors. I reflected on “the importance of not changing the voice of the author as you are editing a manuscript.”

I also mentioned that editing happens at several levels from structural, or the overall content looking at things like flow and transitions, to the line level, or reading each line for errors in grammar, spelling and mechanics, plus things like word echoes. Both are important.

Why Hire an Editor?

Here are a few other reasons why hiring an editor can be a good idea:

  • Editors are trained to notice the small errors readers may detect but that are hard to find if you aren’t looking for them, such as a comma where there should be a period or the ’re words, such as they’re and you’re vs. their/there and your.
  • Editors memorize style guides and know how to look up things and which sources to use.
  • Editors understand grammar down to the fine details (I see it like the Periodic Table of Elements combined with a dictionary with the rules clearly visible and meaningful).
  • Editors are keen readers. Their minds are constantly editing all day long (which also can be annoying, since it’s a game but also makes reading more chore-like).
  • Editors understand voice and how word choice effects the sound and meaning of language, plus they know how to turn analytic writing into something that’s more conversational or vice versa.

Why Self-Publish?

Lastly, to bring on an editor is a choice. What’s more important is that writers write and look at their creations as something worthy of publishing. It can be a solo project, or there can be a team that includes a graphic designer for the cover and internal layout, an illustrator for the images and, of course, the editor to perfect the overall content.

It’s an investment to hire an editor or any other professional, and as the author/speaker mentioned, it’s more important to get the work out in front of an audience. The audience is the reader, and sometimes they want the story. Now!

Top 7 Editing Tips for 2020

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Top Editing Tips on January 26, 2020 at 11:00 am

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Editing is a great way to get your geese in a row, such as the geese walking across the ice at the Foote Lagoon in Loveland, Colo.

Good writing only can go so far if there are errors in it—reading it is more difficult, and it’s hard to get the message if attention gets caught on a misplaced comma or a wrong word choice.

That’s where the chore of editing comes in, though it  takes time, precision and repetition.

Editing is best done on multiple levels and in several rounds to be the most effective. That’s because not every error can be caught in a single pass, since there are several things to pay attention to all at once.

What Editing Involves

Editing involves a close read and making large and small-scale changes to the look of the text. The changes are made at the line level, or each line of text, and at the structural level for the overall content with proofreading providing a final review of everything.

At the line level, editing involves fixing sentences and paragraphs for errors in grammar, syntax and mechanics, as well as spelling and punctuation. At the structural level, editing looks at the entire document for organization, structure and intended messaging, as well as transitions, adherence to the main topic and flow from one idea to the next.

To edit in layers, do a first read through for errors in spelling and grammar, words that are missing or misused, and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy. Then ask if there are missing details or areas that need to be cut that give too much description or information. Edit the overall structure to determine if everything makes sense and is in a logical order with any explanations and examples fitting with the message.

Top 7 Editing Tips

  • Determine if there are boring parts or parts that are over-explained.
  • Look for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice.
  • Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the message along or confuse what you’re trying to say.
  • Use the active voice whenever you can.
  • Get rid of any inconsistencies in how things are stated and look for any elements that don’t carry through, such as a dropped idea or an incomplete example of the main topic.
  • Vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
  • Get rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they demonstrate a lack of creativity.

One Final Thought

Editing moves a rough draft into a polished product that people will want to read. It gets rid of errors and unnecessary words and descriptions to get to the core or heart of the message.

 

The Best Editing Checklist

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips on February 3, 2019 at 6:00 pm

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Editing is best done in layers to achieve clean and great copy.

Editing isn’t a quick fix of reading over an article, story or novel, making a couple of changes and hitting Publish.

It takes at least a couple of rounds of evaluating the overall content, checking for transitions and gaps in flow, and fixing paragraphs and sentences. It takes looking at the whole and the individual lines to make sure the result is a clean, easy read.

With my own work, I used to edit randomly, reading the text from start to finish over and over, but I found editing involves multiple layers of analysis. My original approach was time consuming and I missed things both at the line level (I’d reread the same things) and in the structure of the beginning, middle and end.

Simplifying the Editing Process

To make the process easier, I compiled an editing checklist to make sure I address the levels of editing, while also breaking the task into smaller parts so it doesn’t seem overwhelming and tiresome. After going through the list, the task is completed, and it’s time to do some more writing.

Editing can be done in any order, but it is best to include a read-through for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and mechanics; words that are missing or misused; and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy.

As you edit, ask if there are missing details or areas to be cut that give too much detail or repeat. Also review the entire document for structure, consistency in approach (using the same types of bullets for example) and intended messaging. Make sure everything makes sense and is in a logical order with any explanations and examples fitting with the message.

While editing through the various layers, there are more specific things to check, and here is where the editing checklist is great to have on hand.

7 Things to Look for While Editing

  • Determine if there are boring parts or parts that are over-explained.
  • Look for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice.
  • Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the message along or confuse what you’re trying to say.
  • Use the active voice whenever you can.
  • Get rid of inconsistencies in how things are stated and look for any elements that don’t carry through, such as a dropped idea or an incomplete example of the main topic.
  • Vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
  • Avoid clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they serve as space fillers.

Writing without editing is a rough draft and work that is incomplete. Editing helps get the writing to the core and essential components of what you want to say.

Why Exactly is Editing Important?

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Writing, Writing Advice on October 29, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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Once the writing is done, it’s time to take out the red pen!

Editing is part of the writing process, or most definitely should be, even for emails.

Too many errors, and expert status is lowered, and writers look careless, as if they do not know what they’re doing. It gives the message that it’s OK, because everyone else is doing it, so why not join in? There isn’t enough time, or it’s not necessary. It’s just a rough draft, but it needs to be sent off anyway.

If it’s fiction, it won’t get a read if there are too many glaring errors, despite the content. Or if it’s self-published, the writing looks amateurish, making it hard to trust the story and stay on the page—errors cause the eye to stop and notice them instead of the plot, characters and setting.

Editing and a review process are important for all writers, no matter the skill level, because no one can write anything great and perfect the first time. In the least, there could be a typo or a missed word.

Before editing, set aside the writing (unless it’s an email or communication that needs to be immediately sent off) for a day or hire a third party to review the work.

Here are a few reasons why editing is important:

  • To ensure what you wrote matches what you intended to say and that your message gets across.
  • To ensure what you wrote is what you meant to write, instead of what is actually there, such as saying “their,” instead of “there.” It’s harder to see your own mistakes.
  • To tighten up what you wrote, so that there are not repetitions of material or awkward transitions between ideas or paragraphs.
  • To add missing information or to correct factual errors.
  • To make sure the flow of thoughts and ideas is logical and that there is a good structure to how the material is presented.
  • To make sure everything is understandable with the right amount of detail, but not too much detail that attention is lost.

Hiring an editor to do that editing:

Writers can start off by doing a round of their own editing to fix anything they find before hiring an editor. Manuscripts with lots of errors or sloppy writing take longer to edit and, if the editor charges by the hour, cost more.

Or, hire the editor right away, but realize that editing is best done in at least two rounds, one for general editing and a second for proofreading to catch additional errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and mechanics.

Longer manuscripts generally go through multiple stages of editing, including structural or developmental editing that looks at the entire manuscript, line editing at each individual line of text and then final proofreading to check for any missed errors.

Editing from an outside perspective can be more objective—writers get stuck in their own writing and love it because it’s their work.

The readers, too, will appreciate the editing, showing them that what they’re reading is worth their time and energy. An error won’t make them start asking questions about the meaning, the content or the writer.

 

Editing 101: The Multiple Forms of Editing

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Writing, Writing Advice on October 22, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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Editing is not a simple, one-step process, especially if the goal is to achieve clean, compelling writing that keeps readers wanting to read to the end.

Editing involves multiple layers from revising the overall structure of the manuscript to slow reading and evaluating at the individual line level. Editing has multiple names for those layers from the big picture of the rough draft to the small picture of proofreading of the nearly clean copy.

The Positive of Editing

When it comes to my own work, I wish I could read it once and think, “Oh, that’s nice,” and go on to more writing. But I know, too, that what I write is a rough draft and not close to the final product.

I find slight comfort in the fact that editing can be similar to writing as sentences, paragraphs and new ideas are added or removed to get to the core of the topic or story, so that there isn’t anything extra or boring or any mistakes detracting from the message.

Editing fiction can add a layer of entertainment with new scenes, sections of dialog or character qualities. For nonfiction, layering in details or inserting additional quotes can bring in more complexity, as long as the addition is tied smoothly to what comes before and after.

Levels of Editing

Here are a few different types of editing from the big picture down to the small detail, along with the tasks of each type:

  • Structural or Substantive Editing: Reorganize the manuscript for content or structure; make sure there are transitions between ideas; and clarify any areas of confusion or lack of data or a missing scene.
  • Stylistic Editing: Clarify meaning; eliminate jargon or awkward word usages; make sure the writer’s voice is consistent throughout; and make sure the entire text and the language within reads cleanly and smoothly.
  • Copy Editing: Edit for grammar, spelling, punctuation and other mechanics of style; make sure details and descriptions are consistent; and make sure the use of language and mechanics are consistent.
  • Fact Checking: Check for accuracy of facts by checking various original sources.
  • Proofreading: Read proofs of edited manuscript or give edited copy a final read-through for errors not caught in previous editing rounds.

Error-Free

The aim of the multiple layers of editing is to achieve clean copy that reads smoothly without too many extraneous details or detracting thoughts, ideas or information. By editing in layers, the idea is to catch all or most errors. This is difficult to do if you’re trying to understand the overall content at a quicker reading pace, while also reading slowly at the line level. The two levels of reading need to be separated into different steps.

Reading in layers allows for different attention levels to the text, so that all of the pieces come together in something that is interesting, readable and compelling from the first line to the end.

Fast Ways to Edit Fiction (or somewhat)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Writing Advice on October 15, 2017 at 4:54 pm

To be fast and efficient in editing a short story or novel, it’s helpful to have a checklist and a plan.

The checklist helps avoid overlapping tasks, while also moving through them with speed and careful thought. The seemingly contradictory notions fit together when taking the short and long views.

Editing involves hours of work, but the work can expand if the edits aren’t broken up into parts and instead are carried out start to finish over and over again (the long view). Editing is better off in layers, focused on one step at a time (the short view).

First Editing Round

As a first step, read the entire manuscript through, looking for inconsistencies, areas where the story doesn’t flow or diverges unnecessarily and areas where boredom is the result.

When I edit my own work, if I question needing something, I cut and dump—and put the goners into my Cuts File (because I have trouble letting go). I read for overall plot to make sure things make sense and check for any inconsistencies in character, setting or action development.

Additional Editing

Here are things to look for in each editing pass, or grouped together if it makes sense:

  • Ask if the opening scene grabs the reader.
  • Cut any unnecessary scenes and strengthen weak ones. Make sure the scenes have a clear objective for the character and further the conflict, or opposition, to the objective to keep the action moving.
  • Look for any elements that are incomplete or not carried through, such as a dropped idea, a scene that ends too soon or a character that disappears without explanation.
  • Make sure the plot threads come together. Does the story have a beginning, middle and end? Are conflict and tension sustained throughout the telling? Does the story build with tension at the end of each chapter?
  • Make sure the characters are realistic with good and bad features and that they are distinguishable from one another. Are they fully fleshed out with personalities, backgrounds and unique physical characteristics? Does the reader care about these characters?
  • Ask if the dialogue is realistic and if the characters speak in ways that are distinguishable from one another. Look for consistency, accuracy and any repetitions in their identities, backgrounds and behaviors.
  • Remove any unnecessary back story, especially in the first 50 pages where action is needed to hook the reader, and make sure character histories are not provided too early in the story.
  • Make sure the pacing is compelling and right for the telling of the story.

A Final Thought

Remember, each time you edit, you get closer to the core of the story and the essential components, like a taut rubber band. The story becomes tighter, keeping the reader tense, on edge and ready to keep moving through the story.