The Pain of Editing

I love writing.

I hate editing.

There’s nothing like a first draft, the rush of sitting down and letting the raw ideas flow free. Going back to scrub grammar and punctuation, not so much. But that’s the difference between best-sellers and rejection slips. Nobody – not Stephen King, nor Jackie Collins nor Suzanne Collins – makes a living on rough drafts.

I’ve read different books and articles on editing, with some estimating that several writers will edit their works five to ten times before publishing. In my humble opinion, ten times qualifies as obsessive-compulsive. But multiple edits are a necessary evil. Everybody has their own method, a way that works for them. What works for me is starting with the big picture and working my way down:

First edit: I review for structure. Does the story work, and flow well? Sometimes in a short story, I’ll add or subtract paragraphs and subplots to improve the rhythm and pacing.

Second edit: Sentence/phrase placement and length (the strongest sentence should always be at the end of a paragraph or phrase)

Third edit: I go after individual words. Should my MC be named Rachel or Rachelle? Did she skip or prance across the street? Like Mark Twain (or somebody like that) said, the difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Final edit: The polish level, where I go over grammar, punctuation and spelling. This is my least favorite part, mainly because I’m a horrible typist.

If I’m in a good mood, and wired on multiple cups of coffee, I’ll give it another once-over, also.

For the most part, I’ve stuck with the same editing routine:

  • After finishing a first draft, I like to wait at least a day before trying to edit. My brain needs refreshing.

  • I do most of my editing (and writing) on the weekends and days off from my day job, as early in the morning as possible before anyone else (especially the dogs) wake up.

  • Failing that, I take my laptop and move my game to McDonald’s, where I can camp out in the back corner with a cup of coffee and nobody bothers me.

  • Speaking of coffee, I have as much as possible handy. Whatever it takes to stay alert and find all of those dangling participles.

  • Frequent breaks, as needed.

How does everyone else go about editing? What works and doesn’t work for you?


Author Notes

11 Comments for “The Pain of Editing”

says:

I know leaving a newly written piece sit, and coming back to it after a period of time, helps me self-edit more thoroughly and objectively.

Asking other people to review my work is also very helpful. Because they are an objective reader and have no personal attachment to my writing, they can spot glaring difficulties more easily.

I’m getting better and better at editing for grammar, but I am a baby when it comes to editing for content. Now I am writing fantasy and building worlds, and things like food, clothing, dialogue, passive voice, eliminating unneeded verbs and adjectives becomes so important and overwhelming. I ask people with more experience to help read and review for those elements.

says:

This is an interesting post. I’ve had a hard time learning to edit later and not as I go along. Tough habit to break. I still do it to some degree. I belong to two writers’ groups and bring work there for critiques. That helps a lot in my editing process.

However, now that I’m writing much longer pieces, I have to bring in one chapter at a time. When I wrote my novella of close to 18K words, I went over it several times and fixed things other people noticed. When I had it as done as I could get it, I had 3 beta readers read it and comment on structure, flow, plot and characters. I did more editing and then had it read by one more person.

I agree, whatever works for you is the best way. I do like hearing how other writers do this.
Lina

Tim Hillebrant

says:

Hey Dave,

I liked this post. I always like seeing how other writers go about their craft.

Me, I know very little about editing. So I write, then usually let the finished piece sit because I’m not sure what I’m doing when it comes to editing it. So I move on.

Now as I’ve grown as a writer, that’s changing. I know more about writing, so I apply that to my process.

My next step will be to take a small piece, then put it through the full on edit, bit by bit, googling and looking stuff up as I go.

Did I tell instead of show?

Is this phrase better than that one?

Am I over using words?

And all other stuff I do. So, we’ll try it out, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thanks for the post, Dave! I liked it!

Tim

M.L. Bull

says:

Great post, Dave! Editing is my least favorite between it and writing too. I try to make it fun, but it can be so boring. I’ve actually considering getting an editing book that I saw on Amazon. I have no writing books, but I think actually getting some and reading them will help me get better with both my writing and editing craft. Your post was inspiring and gave a nice insight in an editing process. Nice write! 🙂

says:

ML, I hear you. Most days, I hate it. The rest, I barely tolerate it. But it’s the difference between selling and not selling. And if you’re on Goodreads, you’ve seen how brutal reviewers can be if a book has typos or plot holes. The good news is, it works. Keep a critical eye on your own work, and don’t be afraid to make the hard decisions.

says:

I despise the E word, I cannot bring myself to pronounce it, I actively hide from it. I call it revision… I know I kid myself it isn’t what we all know it is. Doing the task is imperative it is what makes it work. I allow myself to come here, tweet or post on my blog only if I have stuck at it for an hour, a reward system that sometimes works and other times it doesn’t. I love finding things that help, my favorite at the moment is sorting crutch words. I have found if I list as many of the most used ones such as,
was
to
so
thought
I
Said
you get my drift I am sure.
Next I can search on my manuscript for them, instead of replacing i alter them to caps and colour them blue. One word at a time then they stand out like the pesky sore thumb they are and I can work at reducing or eradicating them, then I move on to the next one on the list until it is done. I have tried two at a time a red ‘done’ and a blue ‘was’ you might get on okay with this but I didn’t… it was easier one at a time.
So Dave that is what I do.

says:

Great idea, Ellen! I may start doing that, myself. I’ve discovered my own crutch words and phrases, but I don’t have a solid list to work with.

says:

really
very
quite
basically
truly
apparently (I couldn’t resist!)
honestly
actually
focus on (e.g., “I focus on helping people write well” vs “I help people write well”
like
you know
so
anyway
well
literally.
These are the most common, but if you speak in a certain vernacular you will have some quirky to you.
I say done and did frequently in everyday speak, and didn’t realise I was writing them too. I hope this helps.

says:

I like this idea. I can relate. Think I’ll make a list. I used to use quite all the time until I was told by an editor to cut the words “very” and “quite” from my vocabulary. I never use those words unless it’s in dialogue. But, I have several other words that should be on my cut list. Really and actually have to go.
Lina

In the ultimate irony, I didn't edit this before posting...