Notes About the Editing Process

I wrote about the editing process in a recent post. I’ve been thinking about it from a slightly different perspective. This post is a series of thoughts captured in simple bullet point form. There’s no particular order:

  • Pages often contain the desired end result but the words are in the wrong order. It’s necessary to swap around parts of sentences, whole sentences, and paragraphs.
  • Join sentences together and experiment with longer, more complicated sentences.
  • Split sentences up for punchy prose. Sentences with one main idea are easier to understand.
  • Some people edit a novel in a linear order from start to finish. Other people edit chapters of a novel in a non-linear way choosing the chapter that interests them on a particular day.
  • Some writers edit in layers, only working on one thing at a time (dialogue, description, plot details, spelling and grammar, etc). Other writers do a complete edit of everything in one go.
  • It can he helpful to write using the same text editor or word processor. Or you may prefer to have one app for writing the draft and another for editing. It sets you in a different mode. (There are writers who use different colour paper for the first draft, and another for edits, sometimes one colour for each edit.)
  • The most interesting scenes to write in a first draft can be the most boring to edit. Scenes you didn’t enjoy writing can turn out to be a lot of fun to edit.
  • A significant amount of editing is changing things that make sense in your head for readers who don’t know what’s in your head.
  • At some point you change things and then change them back again (and you wish you were more decisive).
  • It takes as many edits as it takes. Any less is too few. Any more is too many.
  • Editing literary fiction is more about the language, rhythm, and tone.
  • Editing genre fiction is more about creating snappy prose that’s easy to understand.
  • Over-editing usually refers to literary fiction. This occurs when writers embellish the language (‘purple prose’ or ‘flowery writing’).
  • The first draft is largely intuitive. The editing process is rational.
  • Watch out for repetition, especially saying the same thing twice close together but in a slightly different way.
  • Ask yourself, ‘What am I trying to achieve here?’ Are you attempting to be clever or are you aiming to explain your ideas coherently?
  • You might want to switch off the grammar check because you don’t want an application designed for writing office memos telling you what to do. You might want to leave it on. It’s up to you.
  • Learn to recognise your writing ticks (phrases, repeated words, etc).
  • You may want to leave some time between your first draft and the editing process. Come back to the editing when you have a clear mind. You might prefer to go straight into the editing process while the plot details and other elements remain vivid.
  • At some point you swap insipid verbs for punchy ones.
  • If you’re reading a novel as you are editing, it might influence your work. And, then again, it might not.
  • Editing isn’t a crossword puzzle with one solution. Editing forces you to make multiple choices with each sentenece. Every editing choice changes your novel.
  • It’s a struggle to be objective about your own work.
  • A lot of popular editing advice is aimed at people in the workplace, marketing departments, academics, and journalists. Very little of it is aimed at people who write fiction. While some of the advice may be useful, there are important differences between writing copy and writing fiction.
  • Fear of editing a piece of text can be about the fear of failure or the fear of success.
  • The editing process is hard work. Sometimes It can be quite interesting exhilarating and sometimes it can be quite boring tedious.