Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Editing Advice’

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.