“Editing”… what does that word mean to you? To many writers, it means a quick final read through of a piece of writing, correcting typos and spelling. To others, it means 37 drafts, until they can’t stand to look at their words. The second group is far smaller than the first.
Editing means different things to different writers, so here’s the Word Book definition of “editing”:
putting something (as a literary work or a legislative bill) into acceptable form.
To me, editing means figuring out what I meant to do and say, and ensuring that the writing does it. If I’m writing copy for a copywriting client, it means ensuring that the copy covers everything in the brief. If I’m writing a short story, it means meeting genre expectations, and ensuring that the story’s as entertaining as I can make it.
Basically, editing ensures that you get to the point – you fix your writing, so that it sells.
Editing: “what’s your point?”
I wish I could remember which editor gave me the golden gift of these words, but I can’t. You’ll get to the nub of editing your writing when you answer the question: “what’s my point?”
Let’s say you’ve written an article. It’s time to edit your writing. You’ve left the article for a day or two, so that you can attempt to look at it objectively. Ask yourself: “what’s my point?” Answer the question in a single sentence, or a paragraph.
Once you’ve answered the question, print it on a sticky note and stick it onto your computer monitor. Delete everything from your article which doesn’t relate to the point you want to make.
Clarity is everything for a writer. If your writing isn’t clear to you, it won’t be clear to your reader. David Ogilvy said: “Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well.” He also said: “People who think well, write well.”
“What’s your point?” The question helps you to think about your writing logically so that you’re clear.
Fiction: craft your scenes with “what’s your point?”
“What’s your point?” is a valuable question when you’re writing fiction.
Here’s how I write a scene in a novel or short story. I ask myself what the point of the scene is. I type out: “The point of this scene is ______”
I write a sentence or paragraph to cover the point of the scene. This scene target ensures that I cover goal, motivation and conflict. Read Debra Dixon’s excellent book on this.
Next I write the dialogue for the scene. Then I go back and fill in the blanks, so to speak – the action, description and so on.
Before I asked myself the point of a scene, I tended to waffle on. Occasionally this worked out well. However, it meant that when it was time to edit, I’d end up tossing out entire scenes, and writing new ones, because the original scenes didn’t have a relevant point. Or they had a point which I could slide into another scene, and save readers thousands of words of waffle.
When you’re editing your novel, your point for a scene will change. However, because you had a point in mind originally, it’s rare that you’ll need to delete entire scenes. You may need to rework them, as you refine a character’s arc, or your plot points, but editing’s much faster and easier.
Easy editing: delete waffling paragraphs and chapters.
Want an easy way of editing?
Here you go: delete your first few paragraphs of an article, or the first chapter of a book. You can usually delete the first scene in a short story to make the story stronger.
The first sections of a piece of writing tend to suffer from “throat clearing”. You’re nervous. You’re feeling your way into the piece. Once you’ve completed your first draft, you can delete all the messy stuff you with which you started out.
In “Editing — How to Edit Your Book Yourself”, I said:
- Create an Outline from What You’ve Written
Your first step is to read through your book, and create an outline from what you’ve actually written. Create the outline in another document, and print it out.
(I often “print” by using Send to Kindle.)
Once you’ve read the material as a whole, you’ll often see that you don’t need your first scene, or even your first chapter. Slide info dump snippets into the text. Readers are smart. You don’t need to hit them over the head with anything.
Read it aloud.
After you’ve done a first pass of editing your writing, read it aloud. Have your material read to you first. I use Text2Speech on my Mac. If you’re on Windows, I’ve heard good things about NaturalReader.
Try to listen as a reader, rather than as a writer for your first read-aloud session.
Once you’ve edited, read your writing aloud to yourself. Your own reading will usually trigger inspiration. Even if you feel silly reading aloud, please do it. You’ll soon lose your self-consciousness, and you’ll see where you can edit to fix your writing.
There are many theories of why reading your writing aloud helps you to improve your communication. Here’s Wikipedia on Intrapersonal communication. I neither know nor care WHY it works, I’m just happy that it helps your editing process.
Reading aloud has another benefit: built-in proofreading. You’ll catch silly errors: words you left out, words you misused, typos and the rest.
Final step in editing: send it out to beta readers.
I use Scrivener, and my final step in editing a book is sending out reading copies to my early readers.
If you’re writing a short piece, such as an article, your client becomes your early reader.
What are you editing? To me, editing is as much fun as writing. Remember to ask yourself what your point is, and read aloud. You’ll fix your writing, and it will sell. Have fun.