Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Novel editing’ Category

Loving Writing, But What About Editing?

In Editing, Improving Your Work, Novel editing, Revising on October 8, 2017 at 5:00 pm


Editing is best done in several rounds.

In my personal work, I love to write—short stories, novels, poems, articles and, of course, blogs.

But I know, too, that part of writing is editing. I love editing the work of others, but when it comes to my own work, it’s mostly a chore. The first editing round isn’t so bad if I haven’t seen the manuscript for months, but by the 12th edit, I’m a bit sick of my work. So, how do I get over this?

First, I realize that a rough draft is rough and, for most writers, needs to be edited at the overall structural level for how the material is organized and then at the line level for the details. If I don’t edit, I have a messy manuscript stuck in a drawer or Word file.

Structural Editing

Structural editing looks at how the material or story is presented beginning to end and at what occurs in the middle. Are transitions used to seamlessly move from one idea to the next? Are the ideas fully developed with the right amount of detail presented? Is the manuscript readable, or does it feel choppy or go off on tangents? How do the ideas in the sentences flow to the next paragraph so that everything makes sense?

Additional edits help tighten up the writing, get rid of errors and fix any mechanical, syntax or grammatical issues at the line level.

The first two rounds may require one or more passes—typically one for blogs and articles, but short stories and novels often need more to tighten up the writing and balance action with character, so that everything in the storyline keeps moving at optimal pacing.

Three Rounds of Editing

Editing, to be most effective, needs at least three rounds: structural, line level and lastly, proofreading. Proofreading is a final pass to catch the errors not caught in the first and second read-through, since it’s impossible to see every single mistake in a solitary read.

Line level editing and proofreading require a careful, slow read, word by word, paying close attention to every aspect of the sentence, including what is inside it and the punctuation at the end.

Here are some other random things to look for while editing:

  • Identify areas that need more detail or to be cut because of overwriting.
  • Look for dropped ideas or elements that don’t carry through but should.
  • Make sure descriptions are consistent and accurate.
  • Use the active voice whenever you can and vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
  • Look for repetitions in ideas or ways of expression.
  • Check facts, name spellings and any numbers that are used.

Lastly, make sure the content is to a specific audience in a specific voice and style. Consistency is the key to good, clear writing.

Revising an old novel (for new fun)

In Novel editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on August 10, 2014 at 11:00 am

I thought revising a novel I finished three years ago would be easy, because I had already made it “perfect” over multiple drafts.

My novel, “One April Day”, is about a 35-year-old woman named Maggie Cooper who is laid off from a metro newspaper in 2008. She gets caught up in a Bible study gone wrong and a false prophecy that leads her astray from making her own decisions until she faces risking everything, including her comforts of a salary, a home, a church and friends.

My first revision took three weeks when I cut nearly 30 1 ½-spaced pages, or about 9,000 words. A beta reader told me the beginning dragged and needed tightening, so I cut some of my descriptions and play-by-play scenes that weren’t necessary, the result of overwriting.

I also cut a few word echoes, or the same word used in the same paragraph or even on the same page if it is a more unusual word. I noticed that I liked to use the word “look” for gaze, glance and stare, and so I did a word search to substitute half of my usage of that word.

Most of my editing involved tightening, plus some logistical fixes, because I had my plotline set according to the arc, with the beginning, rising action, middle, falling action and end. The character identities were strong, too, because I based them on real people or compilations as the story comes from a real-life occurrence, though many of the details have been changed.

After editing the book, I set it aside for one evening and started another revision, this time spending eight days on it. I wanted to make sure my edits read smoothly and that I hadn’t missed anything, but a hundred pages in, I realized I should have spread out the revisions. I was lazy in my editing, and the story didn’t seem “fresh,” because I had just read it.

Even so, I kept going, because I can’t not finish something I started.

In this revision, I changed styles from Associated Press, which I use as a journalist, to Oxford, meaning I had to write out numbers and use the serial comma in front of the word “and.” I had to remind myself to be on the lookout for the word as I read, so for the first few chapters, I used the Find function to search it out (a big pain) in case I missed the comma insert.

Once I finished the edit on Sunday, Aug. 3, I had 68,100 words and 247 pages. I had started with 78,400 words and 282 pages, so I cut 10,300 words (worthy of a prize given my clinginess to what I write, though to solve this, I dumped my darlings into a Cut file).

I had a Monday, Aug. 4, deadline for this revision to send to a family friend who has connections in the southern Bible belt, though this is just a Big Wish.

Normally when it comes to revising my work, I am the Excuse Queen. I work on everything else first, and then get to the editing, revising and fixer-upper work of the writing process.

Though revision involves writing, it isn’t the same because, at least for me, the writing part is limited: it only involves a scene, a few sentences or the entire novel where I’m fixing a factual, grammatical or other type of error in little spots here and there.

In other words, I write because I love it, and I revise because I want someone else to like what I write without stumbling over multiple errors.

A semi-disappointing “writer’s retreat”

In Novel editing, Shelley Widhalm, Vacations, Writing, Writing Discipline on June 29, 2014 at 11:00 am

When it comes to setting my writing goals, I treat them like food, always looking with bigger eyes than the size of my stomach.

In other words, I had all these great plans for my DIY writer’s retreat stay-cation during the week of Sunday, June 15, through Monday, June 23.

I wanted to treat nearly every day off as a shortened work day of three to six hours spent writing and editing. And I wanted to write at least two short stories, craft a few poems and do a complete revision of my 80,000-word novel, “The Money Finder.”

But as a friend likes to tell me, life is what happens in spite of your plans. The life that happened during my vacation included getting sick, spending time with friends and dealing with the after-effects of a move. I got a bronchial infection; I met up with a few friends at a concert or over food or coffee; and I had practical stuff to do after moving in early June, including putting extra stuff in storage, cleaning my old apartment and finishing organizing and setting up the new one.

The result was I didn’t begin editing until Wednesday, or four days into my nine-day vacation. To say the least, I was disappointed in myself, because I hadn’t been perfect in meeting my goals. I wanted to make up for lost time, but it didn’t happen because of that life-getting-in-the-way thing.

Even so, I was able to set aside time and put in two to four hours a day, totaling 15 hours by the end of the week. Despite getting through about 30,000 words, I increased the intensity of my guilt trip on Saturday, thinking that because I hadn’t reached my goal of 80,000 words my vacation was a total waste.

Two days later on the last day of my I-get-to-be-a-writer-all-day freedom, I readjusted my thinking to that of acceptance. I realized I’d done the best I could with the time I had. I extended my editing project to next Sunday, or the Sunday after, with plans to edit and write, knowing that though I did not achieve my goal 100 percent by the end of the week, I got that much closer.

That’s the point of a stay-cation: having fun, doing what you love and living a little. Guilt shouldn’t be part of it, because it is time off, from everything, including the punch clock.

Revision Dread

In Novel editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on June 2, 2014 at 11:00 am

Revision can be the writer’s least favorite part of the writing process, but it is what turns a sloppy first draft into something marketable.

Reading your work multiple times, asking friends and co-writers to give it an edit and bringing your work through a writer’s group are a few options to identify structural problems, address issues with any of the elements of your writing and find grammatical and style errors in the copy.

Currently, I’m editing my young adult novel, “The Money Finder.” I’ve taken the first 50 pages through my writer’s group, Mountain View Writers, and got comments on minor characters that were flat and clichéd, factual errors in the plot because I lacked the experience and hadn’t done enough research, and areas in the storytelling that needed to be cut, moved or added to keep readers engaged.

One of my friends, who has no desire to write but has read extensively, is reading through “One April Day,” which is literary Christian fiction. He said the beginning drags, reading too much like a journal entry of this happened and then this happened without an overarching reason for him to want to find out what will happen next.

From his experience, most books are awkward during the first 50 pages but get better after that. His theory is that the writers are trying to find their story without going back later to tighten the telling down to the most essential, basic elements.

To edit for the needs of an experienced reader who doesn’t write, give him an opening scene where something happens right away, without putting in too much setting, summary or backstory that causes that dragging effect.

When editing for this and other readers, I like to 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. I like to look for any scene issues, like partial scenes, or scenes that are drawn out or are lacking detail. I like to ask if the overall story make sense. Is there enough at stake in the plot? Are there any boring parts or parts that are over-explained?

Here are a few things to look for during additional edits, including:

• Looking for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice.
• Cutting unnecessary words, sentences and even scenes that do not move the story forward or clutter what you’re trying to say.
• Using the active voice whenever you can.
• Varying the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object.
• Getting rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose or as a character trait.
• Writing visually and making sure some or all of the senses are used, including sight, sound, touch, hearing and taste.
• Tightening the dialogue, cutting unnecessary conversation fillers like, “How are you doing?” and areas where conversation seems to repeat.
• Checking that the characters are well-developed and seem real, not two-dimensional?
And most importantly, make sure your showing and only telling when necessary.

Writing the Way to Forgiveness

In Novel editing, Writing on October 2, 2011 at 7:00 am

With or without writing, I probably would have reached the same final emotion when I finished my novel: forgiveness.

This feeling arrived as if instant messaging me the day I completed my sixth edit. On that Sunday morning two weeks ago, I saw that I was finally done with “One April Day”– I had conducted enough repair work on the manuscript that I felt ready to start looking for an agent.

As I wrote, I didn’t expect to forgive, but the feeling came anyway. I wrote a fictionalized account of what had happened to me out of anger and curiosity – I wanted to tell the story of my layoff from a newspaper, a falling out with friends and my search for meaning in the upheaval.

I knew I needed to forgive, not for the sake of those who I should have let go, but for my own placidity. When this unsought for feeling hit me, I saw that the repair work had been on me.

I’m not sure how, but writing the story started my process of self-exploration. When I edited and reread the story, I found nuances both in my words and what I was trying to say. My loss entered the paper, like water needing to be wiped away, and became no longer mine.

The loss became a memory, something to stop holding onto after analyzing it from the angles of art and thought.

With that release, I didn’t have to drag along the past, like tin cans attached to a tailpipe. I could start the day and the next with a completed manuscript and a sewed up heart without the entanglements of what-ifs or I-should-have’s.

A Poem about Writing

In Novel editing, Poetry, Writing on September 25, 2011 at 11:22 pm

After finishing my novel in February, I, of course, had to edit it, and edit it again. I finished my sixth edit last week and upon completing the three-week process, figured the manuscript was ready for the agent search.

But because I couldn’t get enough of editing, I started editing my poetry — I’ve written 750 poems, not that even half of them are any good. I’m trying to winnow them down into a collection. I found dozens on the writing process, like this one:

HIGH/ Shelley Widhalm

I can get high off writing.

The words to me are like alcohol.

I drink them, wanting more

And more.

My heart clicks in my chest

And my breath quickens

As I slur them scribbling, trying to cram



Onto paper.

Even so, I never hear the rattle of ice cubes

In my empty glass.

I never have to say,

Barkeep, get me another.

I just keep on, feeling lighter and lighter

As I let go of them.

My buzz is from seeing the sentences

And paragraphs

Like pieces of myself

Filling up the pages.

Rows of beer bottles I can come back to if I feel


I let the words go, get crazy with them,

Don’t stumble


I change words and add some,

Leave out others,

Always coming back to the wanting

Like needing a drink.

I need words, or I go into withdrawal

With the missing of what is really me and my company.

That’s what writing is.

Or is it?

I’m only one drunk writing to another.

Working, or Vacation?

In Artists, Novel editing, Vacations on June 12, 2011 at 7:00 am

This past week was supposed to be my vacation, but I spent more than 20 hours editing my novel.

Unfortunately, it’s Friday, and my vacation ends on Sunday. I’m ready to restart my vacation and not do any work, but unlike in politics, there are no re-dos.

My mom and I drove to Omaha to stay with relatives, meeting my brother and his girlfriend there for our weeklong stay. I gave up a few things to do my editing, like a trip to the casinos across the river in Iowa, grocery shopping, cooking dinner (my brother’s girlfriend loves to cook) and playing Rummikub at night (the family had a tournament thing going on).

I “snuck” off to Starbuck for two to three hours at a time to do the editing. I can concentrate there, do some people watching and listen to music as I slowly edit about 10-15 pages in an hour.

I also spent two or three evenings out on the patio doing more editing. I liked looking out at the verdant sloping lawn and at the rabbits hanging out there. One even plopped down on its belly, with its front paws splayed out, looking pretty cute.

But I missed things. Like conversations over preparing meals, playing board games and being together. I was away at Starbucks, chasing this dream that is just that, at least for now. Being a starving artist takes many forms, whether it’s not being who you want to be in order to pay the bills or being who you are but then not having enough money.

I fit my starving artist self into little slots of time that I would rather use for having fun. It’s the weekend, or after work or, like now, a vacation. I spend my vacations being who I want to be during non-vacation time, when I am not who I am.

It’s quite confusing.

All I know is that my family probably wonders where I am. Oh they know, it’s Starbucks, but I’m away from them when, really, I should have been a part of their whole. I guess I’ll have to wait until next year, having learned my lesson.

Working hard has its place, but not at the cost of what’s in front of you, that moment, that being together. Even so, I’m glad to have the editing done.


In Challenge delay, Novel editing, Shyness on April 17, 2011 at 8:53 am

I make these challenges every week that are intended to help me overcome my shyness. Half of the time, I come up with an excuse or a delay tactic. I think that’s a self-protective measure, because really, it’s easier to be shy.

My challenge for this past week was to buy someone coffee who was standing in front of or behind me in line or to do something nice for another person. I did a couple of nice things for people, like taking my mom out on errands (but I do that every week) and offering up my dog for petting sessions when I’m out on walks. She just loves anyone and everyone, but that’s a given.

So, here’s my excuse: I forgot to open my eyes and notice who was in front of or behind me in line. Isn’t that sad? I got so caught up in working hard at work, editing my novel and doing what needed to get done, that I forgot to pay attention. Sure, I noticed when it was sunny or cloudy this past week (it even snowed one day) and that the trees were finally budding. But I didn’t look around for a possible opening for a nice hello, a simple chat or buying someone coffee.

I remembered to do so once this past week, but then I thought that I would be putting myself out there. What if this stranger thinks I’m weird? I know the pay-it-forward concept has happened with people buying Starbucks for the person behind them in line or at the drive-through, but I somehow found it hard to join in. I somehow conveniently forgot my goal once I was inside the coffee shop waiting in line.

Just like in a conversation with a few people talking, unless I’m among close friends, I don’t know when, how and where to add my comments. I just start listening, waiting for a pause – sometimes I get a word in, and then I go back to listening. In other words, I take the easy way out. I think, “I’m shy. I don’t have to try.”

Wrong! My challenge for next week is to pay attention to conversations and to be more involved in them, plus buy someone coffee.

Girl without Dog

In Best Friends, Dad's house, Hard goodbyes, Novel editing on March 13, 2011 at 5:23 am

Yep, I’ve been girl without dog for six days. My dad, who visited me and my brother last weekend, is taking care of her until next Saturday. I “loaned” her out for two weeks for two reasons.

First, my dad had grown attached to her after being her caretaker for a few months while I was living with my mother (see previous blogs). He hinted a few times that he would gladly take her while I was working on my novel, which I finished last month.

Second, I wanted some concentrated time to work on editing my novel. With Zoey, my miniature dachshund, I have to provide her with love and attention, including playtime and walks, every day after work. I knew I couldn’t meet my self-imposed deadline to meet with an agent at a conference this month to present my book. But I decided to postpone the conference scene until my book is tight as a Ziploc bag. I still kept the deadline, but it’s extended to the end of the month.

My dad, who lives in eastern Colorado, took Zoey with him on Monday, and I worked on my novel that afternoon (I have Mondays off in exchange for Saturdays). I thought, “I’m dealing,” until I got home from the coffee shop and faced my empty apartment. I cried and the next night, too, thinking that I should just get on with my work But I hadn’t realized until Zoey was gone how attached I’ve become to my canine best friend.

I guess I’m a sucker for her doggie kisses, her wiggly-butt greetings and her rough-housing play as I try to make my bed in the mornings.

Okay, only six more days …