The Blog Swap is exactly what it sounds like: friends Brett Michael Orr and Rae Oestreich had the idea to guest-post on eachothers’ blogs, with an added twist. Each month they’ll write a guest post based on a topic the other has assigned to them - anything from writing advice, to book discussions, or even literary opinions.
If you’re a writer, then you’re going to have to become an editor at some point, too. A self-editor, at least. Your job doesn’t end after that first draft is written, but I’ve come across many people who find themselves at a loss for where to begin when it comes to editing.
So I’ve put together a snazzy little list for you –
- Write the dang story. I hope this is obvious. After all, you can’t edit a blank piece of paper.
- Put it away. This is something else I recommend for any writing endeavor, be it a novel, short story, blog post, or academic paper. Once you have a first draft written, put it away and don’t look at it. How long you hide it from yourself should differ based on the length of the work: for novels, give yourself two weeks minimum, three/four weeks preferred. Writing a short story? At least a day, two if you can manage. This allows you to clear your head and look at it again with new eyes.
- For every draft you write, save a new copy. Simply open the document, and before you start making changes, hit “Save As” and add a number to the end. Keep them sequential, so you have a copy of your story every step of the way in case you need something you’d deleted.
- Get feedback from others. Seriously. Get beta-readers and CPs that you trust, and politely ask them to read and provide feedback. The bottom line is: you can write and publish something all on your own, but at least 99% of the writing community will advise against it, because there’s going to be things (potential, missed opportunities, factual mistakes, etc.) that you won’t be able to catch on your own.
- Sift through your feedback to decide “what works” for your story. It’s like that not all of the feedback you receive is going to lead your work in the direction you feel is right. Read your feedback carefully. Make a list of the suggestions you want to apply to your work, and if there’s some things you’re unsure about, try them anyway! This is where those multiple drafts really come in handy: you can try a suggestion, and if it doesn’t work, go back to the previous copy (and save it, anyway. Save everything). No harm done.
- Start with the “big” edits. Plot and pacing, characters and consistency, scene, use of themes…the big things. It might be tempting to go word-by-word and fix the sentence structure (well, for me it is, anyway), but you don’t want to wind up fixing something that gets changed or deleted, anyway. Edit at the story-level first.
- Get feedback from others. I know, I know. We already did this! You’re absolutely correct on that, but you did that with an old draft and version. Send it out again – same CPs and betas would be beneficial, but it’s not necessary – and see what people think of your changes.
- Move to the “small” edits. These are the line and copyedits. Look at the work on the sentence and word level, and make sure your writing is readable and that the flow and transitions are smooth. Proofread. Make sure there are no typos. If you know someone who’s good at catching these things, reach out to them and ask (politely) if they’ll help clean it up and make it shiny and pretty.
- Bask in the knowledge that you wrote a completed something. Self-explanatory. My celebrations usually involve dessert.
Two things to remember:
- The process of editing takes time. How much time? It’ll largely depend on the kind of work you wrote and how long it is. A short story might take only two-three months from rough draft to completion (depending on your writing and editing speed), but a novel could (and should) take considerably longer. Whatever you do: don’t rush.
- Have fun! Seriously. Writing is stressful, and editing is even more so. If you find yourself getting frustrated, it’s a good time to step away for an hour or so or maybe ask for a second opinion. Love what you write and treat your words with respect, though, and you’ll find the heart of your work, which will help you in every single one of the above steps.
And, well, that’s really all there is to it. Thanks so much for reading, everyone, and thanks so much to Brett for having me and agreeing to this little monthly project!
Before I go, though, I have a question for you, my dear reader: what’s your favorite part of the editing process, and would you have anything to add to my above list? Leave your answers in the comments, and I’d love to hear what you have to say!