On Editing

cartoon me

Throughout my undergrad writing experience, “editing” simply meant speed-reading my paper out loud to catch any glaring errors (full disclosure -this is also about all the editing I do for blog posts… better to get them out there than keep everything I would publish here in the workshop ad infinium). I was a good enough writer that I could get away with this, with no detrimental effect on my GPA. I loved essays with every fiber of my being -they meant an easy A.

Editing my own writing with an eye toward making it the best possible thing I can create, which is the kind of editing I’m doing now, that’s completely different. Once I’ve written something, I go over it, mumble-reading it aloud to catch any typographical errors and cognitive glitches. I compile the document (I do 99% of my writing in Scrivener)  then print it out. With a paper copy in my hands, I go over everything slowly, reading sections out loud and annotating in my own strange amalgamation of shorthand and symbols, chopping out entire sections, reworking stale prose, polishing rough edges, making a note that I need to add something that does a certain thing at a certain point. I’ll usually go through this process twice before I send a copy to one of my friends/editors/alpha readers, who will put it through their own close read and annotate their copy of the manuscript. Once I’ve made all the the changes I’ve decided to adopt from my editor’s close read (which sometimes means an entire rewrite or a major expansion) I’ll give it at least one more close edit myself before I begin to submit it for publication.

When I first started editing, I was always concerned that I might be overwriting some good words with something that I might not like so much later on. I saved versions of every minor edit I would make on any given story. Within the last two months, I’ve noticed that I sometimes notice a change that should be made a few sentences down as I am fixing some preceding problem on the digital version of my manuscript. I skip ahead and make the change, only to notice when I look back at the annotated paper manuscript that I had written in that same change two weeks prior. This now seems to happen at least two or three times per manuscript. My internal editor has gotten very consistent, and I’ve gotten less worried about editing over something good, or about re-working something to death. It’s nice to come into a consistent self-reinforcement of one’s own aesthetic sensibilities.

(Below are some of the best books I’ve found on writing and editing well.)


On Becoming a Novelist
by John Gardner


Revising Prose
by Richard A. Lanham

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