Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Editing Advice’

What’s up with Self-Improvement Month? (Think Writing/Editing!)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Self-Improvement Month, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on September 13, 2020 at 11:00 am

Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services works on a writing project of writing a short story for Self-Improvement Month. She plans to enter the story in an anthology contest.

It seems there’s a month or day for most everything, so it’s fitting to have a month dedicated just to self-improvement.

With September being Self-Improvement Month, do you have something you’d like to improve in your own life? Is there a hobby you’d like to pick up or a behavior you’d like to engage in to be healthier? Hobbies expand your skill set and teach you something new, while living a healthy lifestyle helps you function better mentally and physically, and exercise is shown to reverse the effects of aging.

Take Steps toward Change

Self-improvement takes change, which can be difficult to do, but staying stagnant can be boring or frustrating. Change is best done in steps, instead of all at once. That way over time, the new activity, behavior or approach becomes routine without requiring a lot of self-convincing to get started or going.

Like with New Year’s resolutions, taking on too much may result in goal dropping by February—gyms are busy in January, but then numbers go down a month later. To start, cut out what’s not working then pick your goal.

If you decide you’re goal is writing or editing (that’s my subject of expertise), here are a few things you can do to turn the goal into a habit (something you do automatically without a lot of forethought).

To start, maybe you need to change your approach to the task and not look at it as something to fear or a chore to dread. I used to dislike editing my own work, but now I see it as a fun project because I get to cut, move things around and flesh out what’s flat or boring. To get to that point, I had to set up my editing routine with a list of goals, timelines, due dates and progress check-ins.

Establish a Routine

To get into a writing (or editing) routine, you can:

  • Create a writing plan to prioritize a set of goals that keep you dedicated and focused. You could write 30 to 60 minutes a day or two times a week, but plan for the same time and day, so that it becomes part of your schedule (and be sure to put it in your planner). Get started writing even if you don’t feel inspired simply by describing something in the room or counting syllables to write a haiku (it’s 5, 7, 5).
  • Break writing into smaller tasks, so that it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. Set up mini-deadlines and items that you can cross off your to-do list. (I like to start my new lists with recent accomplishments that get a big checkmark, so I can remember what I just finished and feel like I’m in the middle of things, not just starting.)
  • Go backward, figuring out a final due date or deadline for a project and coming up with a list of tasks to get there. Write in an estimated completion time for each item on the list. Then schedule the items out, leaving a couple extra leeway days in case of interruptions.

Self-Congratulate

Once you finish your first writing or editing project, have a reward in place, doing something you normally wouldn’t do. Maybe go out for an extra nice dinner or buy a gift for yourself (I tend to pick boxes of fancy chocolate).

If you get through September with your new goals turned into routines or even habits, you can get ready for the long months of winter when you might be stuck inside. I find the cold weather is a good time to buckle down and get serious about my writing projects—during the warmer months, I tend to want to be outside and play. That’s why I’m glad Self-Improvement Month happens in the fall.

Editing in Rounds (to get the perfect polish!)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Writing, Writing Tips on July 27, 2020 at 11:00 am

Editing adds a final polish to your writing to make what you produce colorful and attractive, giving that flamingo effect!

Editing a novel or a manuscript can’t happen in one round—at least most of the time.

Like with writing, editing is done in layers and it takes time.

Editing can be done in different passes (think of rounds of beer) to identify the missing, the overdone and the boring.

The missing can be missing plot points, missing character identities or a lack of necessary scene description to anchor the character and action.

The overdone can occur through repetition and overwriting, such as creating similar scenes or putting in too much description or detail. For example, two beautiful sentences describing the same thing requires picking or combining but not keeping both.

The boring comes in with too much or too little—there’s too much description, too many main characters (it’s best to keep to one to five to allow for reader tracking and empathy) or too little happening in the action. The story falls flat without rising action, tension and a driving force that compels the character to chase her want (she ends up getting what she needs, not what she wants).

Editing in Rounds

I like to do my editing in four rounds. They are:

Round 1: Edit for Boring: Once I’ve completed my novel and set it aside for at least a month, I read the entire manuscript to see if there are parts that are boring or repeated. I call this my getting-rid-of-the-crap phase.

I dump the cuts in a cuts file and turn the overwritten pretty descriptions into poetry to fill my poem-a-day project that I started in 2015 (that’s another story).

Round 2: Edit for Arc: Once I’ve removed the rough bits, I get down to story. I like to use Nigel Watts’ eight-point narrative arc as a guideline to make sure I’ve included all the crucial elements in storytelling.

Watts outlines the eight points in any story as Stasis, Trigger, The Quest, Surprise, Critical Choice, Climax, Reversal, and Resolution. The main characters experience something that upsets the status quo, sending them on a search to return to normal, but they encounter obstacles along the way. They have to make a critical choice that leads them to the story climax and eventually their return to a fresh stasis, or the new normal.

Round 3: Edit for Pacing: I get down to the business of action and reaction, looking at where there is excitement—sentences are short and to the point to move the story along—and where there needs to be a pause in the narrative with description and character reflection.

I think about each action in the scene and determine if I’m slowing the pace with too much inner thought or character observation or leaving out information, such as stage direction and logistics. I also make sure characters doing one things don’t suddenly do another action without some transition, such as sitting and suddenly running without first getting up from the chair.

Round 4: Edit for Grammar: I polish the manuscript by looking at grammar, mechanics, punctuation, spelling and syntax (how words are put together). I get rid of annoying word habits—for me, my characters do a lot of looking, gazing, nodding and smiling (I’m glad they don’t frown though).

Final Editing

And lastly, I edit every time I get a rejection from a literary agent or feedback from my writers group. I keep editing until I get a “yes,” though it takes hours and hours of work.

Once I do my own editing, I hire an editor to give my work that final polish and to catch anything I missed. This step is particularly important for self-publishing to make sure the copy is clean and free of error, because too many errors in any of the rounds cause readers to doubt the quality of the work. I prefer the flamingo effect, beautiful, striking and eye-catching work!


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.

Fast and Fun Tips for Editing

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing Tips, Top Editing Tips on February 23, 2020 at 11:00 am

IcyTable1 12-2019

Editing smooths out the beauty of writing so that what’s ordinary, like this table, becomes even better, such as with the ice pattern on top.

Editing is not easy, and for many, it’s not exactly fun.

It’s never a one-time thing either and often requires a couple of read-throughs. To be the most effective, editing needs at least three rounds: structural, line and proofreading.

Structural

Look through the entire document for the overall structure, or how the information is put together and presented to the reader. Make sure everything makes sense and is in a logical order with any explanations and examples fitting with the message.

Line Level

Check for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and mechanics; words that are missing or misused; and sentence structure that is awkward or clumsy.

Proofreading

Give a final pass to catch the errors not caught in the first analysis and second read-through, since it’s impossible to see every single mistake in a solitary read. This requires a careful, slow read word by word.

As you edit, there are several things to think about.

The Fast and Fun Tips*:

  • Cut the long sentences and use varied sentence lengths and structures; plus, mix in short and long paragraphs.
  • Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the message along or confuse what you’re trying to say. This will get you to the essential meaning or intention of what you want to say.
  • Check for sentences that don’t make sense or are too technical or heavy in ideas.
  • Avoid repetition of words, facts and details.
  • Opt for the active voice over the passive voice. For example, say, “The dog ran after the cat,” instead of “The cat was chased by the dog.”
  • Keep verb tenses the same, especially within a sentence.
  • Replace adjectives and adverbs with nouns and verbs.
  • Avoid clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they serve as space fillers.

Lastly:

If looking at sentences or paragraphs is boring to you, hire an editor! Your writing will improve tenfold, and it will be clear, clean and concise. It’s worth the investment of effort, time and resources.

*I provided a series of articles on fast and fun tips, but didn’t get this last one in—I was sidetracked by the holidays and my New Year top tips.

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

GeeseWinter3 12-2019

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

Notebook1

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.

Top 10 Tips for Editing

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing Tips, Writing Tips on January 21, 2018 at 6:00 pm

GeeseSummer1 2016

Editing is a way to get your “geese in a row.”

Editing is the hard part of writing—it’s not as sexy or as fun, unless you love fixing sentences, repairing paragraphs and restructuring the content.

There are many approaches to editing from looking at each line of the test to the flow of the overall story, blog or article. Editing can be as involved as the writing process, because it takes time and precision to find errors and make large-scale adjustments.

When I write novels, I do six or more editing rounds that take hours of work, whereas the writing is spilling out the story, trying not to think too hard about the sentences—I’ll get stuck if I do. Editing articles is quicker—usually they get two to three rounds to find those errors and check for flow, transitions and overall meaning.

In a general sense, editing involves anything from fixing sentences and paragraphs to looking at grammar, punctuation and mechanics and the entire document for the structure and intended messaging.

Top 3 Editing Rules:

  • Editing once isn’t enough—editing takes several reads to catch errors, because not every error can be noticed the first time around.
  • Editing is best done by at least two people, bringing more perspectives to the project and additional ways to find or notice the mistakes.
  • Editing is best 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 to be cut that give too much detail or repeat. 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.

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 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.

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.