A quick guide to editing your work

Introduction

This week at college we brought in an A4 sized (double spaced) amount of writing for a class exercise.  We swapped our work with a writing buddy and we were able to read and try to edit our buddies work further.

Method

My writing buddy explained to me that he would generally read a piece of work through to first to get an understanding of what it was about.  Then he would read it through again to get a greater feel for the piece of work and make a few notes.  Then lastly he would read it for a final time to make some detailed comments before editing.

The exercise was interesting as we both managed to edit and re-write each other’s work a little bit further than we had ourselves originally.  This was very useful as I felt that I’d spotted a weakness in my buddy and he’d spotted a weakness in me.

So what have I learned in a nutshell on when to edit and how?

  1. Write your piece of work and find time for a ‘cooling-off’ period (more than a few hours and more than a couple of days).  The first draft should be creative, spontaneous, forceful with emotion and at the same time without thought (sloppy).
  2. Then you should begin to work on your writing after a good break away from it. You should be ‘argumentative, self-righteous, cautious, rational and effective’ (as quoted in Singleton and Luckhurst 2000).  The editing process of writing is more difficult than writing the first creative draft.

What could you do when editing?

  1. You need to decide whether it is easier to edit in longhand or on a computer.
  2. If you do decide to edit in longhand first then you will probably transfer your amended work onto a computer at a later stage.  Many writers’ don’t bother writing in longhand they just edit on screen to save time.  It is most certain that you will need a version of your work on the computer before giving it to someone else to read in any case.
  3. When reading through your work and making changes to it initially, you will concentrate on the big changes necessary in your early drafts.
  4. Afterwards, reading your work aloud will rouse your editor within and you will be surprised at what errors you will hear and feel just by listening to yourself.  Speaking aloud will show up rhythm and/pace problems.  You will be able to hear any awkward, unclear and excessive wording and adjust it to make it sound more natural and maybe sprightly.  Big changes should still be made at this stage to your writing to the pace and style of your piece.
  5. Once you have made bigger changes to your work by longhand (or on the computer) and after reading your work out aloud, then later you should pick up on the smaller more subtler changes like spelling, other attention to detail and aspects of accuracy.  The bigger changes tend to be more time and energy consuming, once these are out of the way you can then concentrate on the later more final stages of your editing.
  6. Final editing should include alterations to text layout (does it look good?) and check dialogue (does it advance plot? demonstrate character? indicate relationships?).
  7. Can you add in some more actions to add weight to the story?  Can you replace any character words or report speech rather than giving it directly?  We use reported speech when we are saying what other people say, think or believe.  Do your characters match their characterisation details?
  8. Check the punctuation and grammar to help your readers understand your words.  You need to communicate your ideas professionally by being clear and effective.  One important comment to note is do not completely trust your computer to find all your grammatical and spelling mistakes.  There is no replacement for a dictionary. A really good book to use that was recommended to me for help with style is : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Elements_of_Style
  9. Writing never ends, you could go on refining and tightening for what seems like forever but there does come a stage when you feel that the piece is as good as it could be.  So asking a friend or a relative perhaps to read it aloud for you can be an advantageous way of performing a final edit.  Be very careful using another person to help you edit your work, their advice must be both useful and as objective as possible.  One of the most common ways for a writer to go public is at a writers’ workshop where the writer reads out their work and receives feedback on it from their peers.  It will leave the reader feeling pleased in the fact that they know more about their work before they went.  The feedback given should enable them to make any improvements necessary to the way that they write.

Conclusion

I’m lucky enough to attend college where once a week two of my group members will read out their work in class and we will give or receive feedback. It can be difficult taking advice sometimes; although it does get easier the further away you get from the first draft.  It’s a good idea to find out how you would best listen and respond to criticism before asking others to comment on your work.  To learn how to review or criticise another’s creative writing then please take a look at my earlier article:

https://budbin.wordpress.com/2012/10/page/4/

It is most important to be aware of what aspects of your work are being criticised and why, this is so you certainly don’t take any feedback received personally.  Only by taking on board these steps will the process of editing become second nature.  It will become easier to take on board what others are saying to you and you will be able to apply their criticism and advice to your own writing.  Practice makes perfect so they say.  Knowing the people criticising your work may help if they are objective and constructive and they won’t seem as daunting as a stranger.  You must record what they are telling you and what you have decided to change and why.

I hope that you have found this article useful, please feel free to comment and share.

Thank you, Lee.   🙂