Tag-Archive for » Editing «

Learning the Craft of Writing

A lot of people start out onĀ  the journey of writing a book and never finish and I’ve talked about the things I often do to help myself finish the things I start, but today I want to talk about the next stage.

Often when the very first story is finished it’s not that great, and it can be very tempting to sit down and edit right away, wanting to get it ready to show others. I’ve found it’s better to leave the book for a few weeks. When I come back to it I find it easier to spot the mistakes because my brain has had time to forget what I meant to say. Also, during that time of reading and writing in between I’ve already grown a little more as a writer (at least I’d hope I had).

It can also be tempting to just keep editing. And then edit again, based on the rules we’ve learnt since the beginning and the suggestions of those first few readers. While this does help a little, it can actually kill that precious voice and style that is unique to each of us.

When the pen first hits paper (or our fingers press those keys) we are in our creative mode. The words are flowing from the more subconscious part of our brains. The part that more intuitively knows what it’s doing. It’s been reading books and words since we were kids so it’s picked up on more than the conscious part of the brain has. It will already have an idea of who it is and how it should sound too. But near the beginning of our careers our critical side, the part a lot of people edit in, is not so clever. It’s read those books too but it used to just enjoy them. It never looked at the way other authors did things. A blog I read recently even goes so far as to suggest we shouldn’t really edit in our critical mode because it will never be as good as our more intuitive creative side.

Everyone who writes is different, there’s no one way to do things and I think this includes how we edit. I have found, as I’ve written more books the need to edit has lessened. I’ve got better from reading books and finding tips all over the internet in a more intuitive manner so my first drafts are getting closer and closer to perfect (If you don’t include typos and other grammar issues I’m still struggling with) and my editing is getting less and less.

If I’d spent all that time editing up the first few of my stories (which really aren’t as good as the work I’m doing now) I don’t think I’d be as good as I am now.

In short what I’m trying to say is, read the how-to’s and learn what you can from reading other books, but when it comes to your own work, do as little editing as you can get away with; at the very least typos, grammar and structure editing. Then spend the rest of the time writing something new, with what you’ve learnt from the previous attempts. You’ll get better, faster that way.

Editing: How-to

One of the biggest challenges every writer faces is editing. No writer really likes doing it. It’s essentially finding everything that’s wrong with the masterpiece you just laboured over. I’ve blogged before on some of the best ways to edit and you can find that blog here. What I’d like to talk about today is some common things that need to be looked for when editing.

One of my most common mistakes and one I hear other authors talking about is the over use of the word ‘that’. It’s used a lot in speaking but in the written word it’s often not needed. For example the sentence, ‘He told her all of the things that he needed’ works just as well if said, ‘He told her all of the things he needed’ so often doing a find all on the word ‘that’ and removing most of them is a good way to start. Do be aware some uses of the word are necessary, so don’t just do a find and replace.

Another common mistake is the overuse of the character’s names. Often he, she, him and her are enough when there is only two or less characters present. The name can be used again here and there but it doesn’t have to be every paragraph.

Then there is the spelling ones that don’t get picked up by spell checker, for example using the wrong one of their, there, and they’re. As long as you’ve spelt them right then it’s not going to get flagged up as wrong.

The one I always do wrong is it’s and its, they are the opposite way round to my expectations and I can never remember which one I should be using. It’s is the shortened form of it is and its is when there is a posession and the owner is refered to as it. For example if you were refering to a ship’s sails you might say ‘its sails’, not ‘it’s sails’.

The words ‘begin’ and ‘start’ are used a lot in writing as well. They’re not so useful and in almost all cases can be cut out of work. The only time I’d use them is when there is a list of things the person has got to do and they ‘get started on their chores’ for example. It’s the same with ‘then’. It should really only be used in a list of things the person is doing, not as the start to a new sentence or paragraph.

There are a few others but they are the ones I find most often in my own work. I’m getting into the habit of not using them in the first place or using them correctly to begin with but occasionally they still creep into my work where they are not wanted.

Editing Manuscripts

Once a book, film script or other piece of work is finished it’s very rarely in a perfect state for selling. There is always something that needs editing or changing slightly, and those pesky spelling mistakes not picked up by spell checker because they are still a word.

There are a lot of indie authors publishing their books and not paying for an editor first. While this can work if the author has acquired plenty of help editing themselves it can still leave some mistakes. Here’s a list of things you can do to minimise the mistakes that slip through the net.

  • Leave it for a month or two and come back to it.
  • Get several friends and fans to read over an advanced copy of the manuscript.
  • Read it aloud to yourself.
  • Read it backwards.
  • Write it out by hand.

Leave it for a month or two

Often when writing the author can get very attached to what they have written, snippets of conversation, and the way they have described something. Putting the manuscript on a shelf for a short while and coming back to it can help give a fresh perspective on what is actually necessary and what isn’t. Sometimes we have to cut out parts we like because they aren’t helping progress the story along at all.

It can also be helpful if we have time to forget some of those paragraphs that we’ve worked on so much we’ve memorised them. Knowing the manuscript too well can lead to errors being missed because our brain automatically tells us what it should be.

Friends and fans reading advanced copies

This is one idea I thoroughly recommend people use for two reasons. Other readers are less attached to your work and it can be a great way to reward fans. There are a lot of people who, once they have already decided they like your work, will be very eager to help you out in return for getting to read your new books before anyone else. They are also going to be the most forgiving of any mistakes you do make as they will feel like they can help you put it right.

Reading aloud

I’ve found this is one of the best methods of catching mistakes, especially things like wordy sentences and monologues. I also recommend this is done in all film manuscripts long before it finds it’s way into the hands of any prospective actors or investors. You’ll be surprised what seems right on the page but sounds very wrong the minute you speak it out.

I’ve found that reading out loud can also help with the placement of punctuation. Most comma’s and full stops go in the sensible pauses you take while reading aloud. Sometimes you can find you have placed too many commas in a sentence or two few and the whole emphasis can be lost.

Reading backwards

While the above methods are all useful, the human brain is a little too clever for every mistake to be spotted. The brain naturally corrects things it knows to be wrong. This can often mean repeated words can be missed, as well as words being slightly out of order, and letters within words being in the wrong order. To stop the brain correcting things it can help to read the book or film manuscript in reverse order, checking each word as you go.

Writing the whole thing out

I’m not entirely sure I’d actually recommend this type of proofing if all the above have been done, however, it was something I did. Yup you heard me right. I wrote my entire book out by hand when I had finished it. It was a present for a very awesome friend and fan of mine for Christmas. I had a really thick leather bound journal and wrote a personal letter to them on the front page and filled the rest with my book.

While I was writing I had to concentrate so hard on writing it out word for word that I noticed quite a few mistakes and could correct them. It was mostly useful for using the same word too often but I also caught quite a few punctuation errors and formatting errors that way.

I am not sure if I would actually write out future books by hand though.

Everything I have listed above does help with editing and getting the book up to scratch and I can’t stress how important it is that any book goes through a very rigorous editing process. The best way of course is to pay a professional editor, and to be very careful which one you choose, but I understand not every writer can always afford to do so, especially with the first few books.

There are a lot of people still very prejudiced against indie books because of their lower standard of editing, however, so it is in every indie author’s best interests to make sure their book is as spelling and grammer mistake free as they possibly can. It also can’t help to do so when applying to agents and traditional publishers either.