The saying goes something like “good writing is re-writing” – and it’s true. Whatever you’re writing, your editing skills will make the difference between a decent piece of work and an unreadable hotch-potch of words.
As part of my day job, I write and edit online content, and I’ve been doing it for more years then I care to admit. Luckily, I love editing and will happily take re-writes over first drafts any day. So here are five pieces of advice on editing from an editor.
1. Read it out loud
This is my top tip. Do I do this at work? Yes, yes I do. My desk mates don’t mention it, so I think they’re used to it. Or they’re just plotting to kill me in their heads. Overall, it’s probably best to read your work out loud alone. The reason why this is so good is it highlights so many parts of your work. By reading what’s actually there you’ll spot any typos or potential confusion over who’s saying what. You’ll get the best idea of the flow of your story, the pacing and depth of your description. And you’ll hear how natural the dialogue sounds and whether your characters are speaking as you’d imagine them to – so don’t forget to “do the voices”!
2. Get a second (or third, or fourth) pair of eyes
Not literally of course – that kind of thing will get you locked up. But getting someone to read what you’ve written is important. At work, we always review each other’s work, sometimes two. One covers the detail of what’s written, making editorial suggestions etc and the second covers the technical bits, spelling, typos, and the like.
Some people use Beta readers, specially recruited to read your work and give you honest and detailed feedback. It’s usually a good idea to put together some questions if there are areas you want specific information on. Most of the time, people will offer to be Beta readers for free, but be prepared to become someone else’s Beta-reader in exchange. It’s all good experience after all.
Or you may have a trusted friend whose opinion you value. If they’re prepared to help, this could be an excellent option too. Just be clear about timings and exactly what you need from them.
3. Use (any and all) tools to help
At work, we often have to get articles out within tight timescales, so we use whatever tools we’ve got to help us out. The obvious ones are things like a spell checker, but an amazing number of people overlook this simple step so don’t forget about it! But there are also a bunch of other (free) tools out there such as Grammarly, the Hemmingway App, and Readable. There are ones to help you keep track of complicated plotlines, ones to help you plan your time, ones to make notes to come back to later. Oh and here’s a handy blog post covering nine handy writing tools.
4. Finished your first draft? Take a break
Once your first draft is done, don’t start editing straight away. With the kind of tight deadlines we have at work, taking a break can often just be long enough to get a cuppa. But even a quick break resets your mind. If you don’t have a deadline to meet, how long you take for your work is up to you. I’d suggest at least a week. And once you’ve done your first edit, take another break before the second. Which brings us to tip number five.
5. Do more than one edit
The number of times you choose to revise your piece is a personal thing. Personally, I usually do three. The first, the hardest, is to really whip things into shape, connect the plot dots, and get it readable. The second is where I really focus on fleshing out characters, description, and any symbolic threads. The third is the proofread, fixing typos, formatting, all the boring stuff essentially. But I find only you know when to stop. The only advice I’ll give is to edit more than once.
So those are my editing tips – what do you think? What are your tips and tricks? Please share in the comments.