Step Three–Edit, Edit, Edit.
Your readers want to read the story, to be entertained or informed. They want to finish reading the book with a satisfied smile. If they do that, they may just buy your next novel.
Editing is removing all the mistakes that stop the reader from enjoying your story.
“Assume all your readers are editors.” (Lorena Goldsmith 2013)
You may find that as you write your novel, the words and ideas flow effortlessly. The creative drive is magical. The words fly into your computer or out of your pen and you write and write. (Unless you have writer’s block which we will discuss at another time) I find writing is exhilarating and wonderful. Editing, for me, is far more tedious and definitely much harder.
Editing requires a different mindset from creative writing. I think some people excel at editing. They have the focus to spot the errors and methodically work through a manuscript without getting caught up in the story. If you are like me, I’m good at spotting a few mistakes, but then it all seems to blur, and I get drawn into the story and the editing goes to pot.
Some writers are also exceptional and can write a novel with brilliant flow, use just the right word in the right place, don’t start all their sentences with the same word and make all the myriad bloopers that it’s possible to make. That’s not me–but I’m slowly improving and editing definitely makes me aware of what I’m doing wrong.
It also helps to acknowledge strengths and weaknesses in your writing. I can’t spell and I suck at grammar. I overuse words, adverbs and the passive voice. I often start each sentence with the same word, (as if you didn’t notice) and I make lots of other mistakes. But my strengths are plotting, character development, dialogue, conflict and pacing, and I can write an entertaining story. For me to get my story read and enjoyed I need all the help I can get.
There are three different types of editing:
The structural edit–or the big picture. With this read through, you are looking at the overall construction of the novel or short story. The plot, pacing, setting, points of views, character development, chapter length, use of conflict, cliff hangers and plot holes plus other stuff.
The line or copy edit–which looks at grammar, word usage, spelling, elimination of overused words, elimination of filler words, repetition, sentence length, paragraph starts, incomplete or non-sensible sentences, showing not telling, good dialogue, unnecessary dialogue attributions, cliches, mixed metaphors and poor research, to name a few.
Proof-reading–the final edit which picks up the typos, line spaces and other issues that will disrupt the printing process.
I need the line and proof-reading edits more than the structural. However, I have had good structural feedback from other writers. I have rewritten and changed chapters around. It is a daunting task, but I learnt a lot from the process.
If you struggle with editing, there are also some ways of helping you get your editing cap firmly on your head.
- Buy a good reference book and have it on hand at all times. I found Lorena Goldsmith’s Self-Editing Fiction that Sells. (How To Books Ltd. UK 2013) was excellent. I also use the Oxford English–A Guide to the Language compiled by I. C. B. Dear (Guild Publishing 1986). Steven King (yes that Stephen King), swears by William Strunk Jr. The Elements of Style (The Macmillan Company 1959). Stephen King also has a very entertaining informative book, Stephen King-On writing.
(Pocket Books 2002)
- I purchased “ProWritingAid”, an online editing program, for $120 a year. I love it, but it takes a while to learn how to use it. Other writers use Grammarly, Scrivener or Hemmingway. I suggest you Google “editing programs for writers” and see what suits you. Many have free trials too. You also have basic editing tools in Microsoft Word.
- Find yourself one or two friends who can edit your work if you edit theirs. This person is more than a reader who will give an overall impression of your novel. They will need to have a good idea about what good writing entails. School teachers who specialise in English make talented editors. Give them a red pen and they become eagle eyed warriors for the English language (Bless them)
- After I have completed my structural edit, and have had a go at the line editing, I employ a professional. My editor does a wonderful job using track changes in word to make comments and fix my grammar, punctuation, spelling and she’s brilliant at spotting anachronistic words. The cost for an 80,000-word novel is about AU$600 -$800. The cost increases if you supply a rough draft which needs extensive editing.
Thanks to Mary McDee and Lee-Anne Kling for the editing corrections.
© Elsie King 2022 Photo from Creative Commons online