Rambles and rants, writers, Writing

E is for Editing

Authors on A-Z of Writing

Welcome to a new series of blog posts titled “Authors’ Tips – A to Z of Writing”. Authors Devika Fernando, Preethi Venugopala, Paromita Goswami, Reet Singh, Ruchi Singh, Adite Banerjie, Saiswaroopa Iyer and I — will be posting on a multitude of subjects related to writing. 

Topics will be chosen alphabetically and each week we propose to cover at least one or more subjects characterised by the Alphabet of the Week.

Today’s topic is E for Editing.

Editing is a vital part of the writing process. There are tons of experienced writers who will tell you that your first draft can be crap as long as you edit well. Well, there you go; editing is the process of transforming your manuscript full of your thoughts and ideas, into an engaging, polished work called a book.

Creating a book for public consumption requires investment. Most authors who are in this business for the long run, hire a freelance editor to take a look at their manuscript at some stage. There are editors who specialise in editing book manuscripts and it is wise to ask for a sample before you hire someone. Sure, you can use online tools such as Grammarly and your word processor’s spell check, but those are not enough. A human eye for detail is a must. Before you suggest taking on the task yourself, remember that you are super used to your own writing and could read your own words for hours without spotting some errors purely based on familiarity.

Before you ask your freelance editor or your other author friends to take a look at your story, you should do your best to eliminate errors from your manuscript. Editing isn’t just about fixing typos or adding in a paragraph here and there, so make the self-editing count. Here’s a checklist:

1) Multiple Rounds of Edits: One round of editing is NOT ENOUGH. Two to three rounds is the minimum because there are multiple layers to tackle. For instance, spelling, punctuation, basic grammar and sentence construction issues are relatively easy to spot when you go line by line. But then you need to consider other aspects whether you are writing fiction or non fiction. For example, are the non fiction book chapters written in language that is appropriate for the target audience? Or, is one character in the story of zero value, mere decoration? Many authors find their initial drafts to contain extra pages that add nothing to the story. Remove those. Others find that they didn’t build upon a character or a relationship between two characters. Flesh it out.

2) Take Print Outs: I care A LOT about the environment, but I won’t encourage you to edit your entire book on your computer. Take a physical copy for the last round of edits at least, so that you can go crazy with your highlighters/red pen. Sorry, I’m a stationery addict. But seriously, seeing your many many pages in print can bring new errors to your notice. Plus, you get some time away from your computer. Sit in the coffee shop maybe?

3) Please Spell Check: To continue my warning against relying on the spell checker that comes with your word processor, let me give you an example. Once upon a time, I typed in ‘new’ while I was trying to fulfill my word count goals of the week, and the spell checker didn’t point it out, even though I was supposed to write ‘knew’ instead of ‘new’. Why? Because these two words are homophones and my spelling was not incorrect. Sigh. Similar issues if you want to write ‘bear’ but your fingers type ‘bare’ and your spell checker ignores it. Right?

4) Take a Break: Don’t hurry. Take a break between writing The End and your first round of edits. It’ll give you time to think about what you’ve written and how the story came out and how it should be. After the first round of edits, take another short break. Of course you’ll be thinking about your manuscript sitting there, but take it as an opportunity to plan the next round of edits.

5) Read Out Loud: Scanning your manuscript with your eyes, multiple times too, can make you miss some mistakes as you go over the same thing again and again. After a round or two of edits, consider reading it out loud to yourself, with a big ruler or piece of paper in hand to make sure that you can cover up whatever you’re not reading at the moment. Focus is the key. So you could read one paragraph out loud, keeping the paper/ruler on the next set of paragraphs. When something doesn’t sound right, your ears will tell you immediately and you can make a note for correction.

A good writer must know the basics of editing. Hope this helps 🙂


12 thoughts on “E is for Editing”

  1. I’m retired now, but was a professional editor for more than 30 years at major metropolitan newspapers. I blog now mostly for my own enjoyment, and also edit other writers who assist me with a political venture. Most are also retired professionals, so I don’t worry too much about them, but sometimes friends who have never been edited in their lives will ask me to edit something, and problems soon arise.

    Friends can quickly become enemies once they see what I’ve done to their precious prose. Even a little red ink is alarming for those unaccustomed to seeing it. What you said about writers taking a first look themselves is crucial. As a professional, I expect to find errors that others might not, but don’t force me make extra red marks on your paper for things you should have caught yourself.

    It’s often difficult to walk the line between improving copy and completely discouraging a budding writer. Writers need to be serious about wanting to improve, and they must develop a thick skin. Conversely, editors need to realize that they can quickly reach a point of diminishing returns when they make too many changes. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and no scribbler becomes a writer if he’s too hurt by criticism to ever try again.

    Writing and editing are difficult but also enjoyable if you approach them with the idea that there’s real work involved. It makes me cringe when a writer, frightened before I even begin, begs me to “be gentle.” I then have to ask myself if this writer really wants me to edit his story or just wants me to rubber stamp it.

    Much angst can be avoided if writers will simply learn to follow the steps you’ve listed here. Be your own worst critic, and edit, edit, edit yourself until you are heartily sick of what you’ve written. Then, read it one more time!

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