Writing Advice: Editor’s Checklist

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#Sometimes you just need a system. Sometimes a task that seems insurmountable can be made that much easier by having a set of guidelines in front of you. When it comes time to edit a story or novel that you’ve been working on for a long time, you may not know where to begin. Ideally, someone else would be editing your manuscript. It’s best to have someone who has not been involved with the story at all looking for mistakes. But more often than not, we are our own editors. If you’re struggling with the editing process, something like an editor’s checklist might help you out. Recently I found a great post on The Editor’s Blog that offered some helpful guidelines.

In this post, Fiction Editor Beth Hill suggests ways to attack/edit a manuscript. For instance, she says you should “anticipate how changes in one element or scene or plot thread will change elements and scenes and plot threads later in the story.” This is something that could be easily forgotten. In the past, when I’ve edited first drafts of my own, I’ve been so focused on fixing one part of the story that I forget repercussions those changes will have later on in the story. One easy way to keep track of these changes is to use a program that allows you to leave comments in your manuscript’s margins. Insert a comment whenever you make a change that affects the plot. Then you can skim those comments later on to see what needs to change elsewhere. You could even color code your comments according to characters or plotlines.

Most of us are not completely prepared to be editors. We are authors and so aren’t in the editing mindset, especially not when dealing with our own creations. Because of this, you might be helped by this piece of advice from Beth Hill’s article. She says, “Editors are often concerned with the elements of the story that are not yet on the page—they look to see what’s missing.” When you sit down with your manuscript, you may be focused solely on what you’ve put down on the page. You may be concerned with fixing those elements and, in so doing, fail to notice what your story lacks. I would suggest setting the story aside for some time and then doing a full read-through. As you read, make notes about what doesn’t make sense or what needs to be developed more fully. Refer to those notes later to figure out what your story still needs.

At the end of Beth’s post, she has created an actual checklist of questions for you to ask when editing your manuscript. These include questions about the plot of your story, your characters, your setting, your dialogue, and much more. I would suggest checking out the post to get started on editing a project.

Happy writing and happy editing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writer’s Advice: Steps for Editing

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Last week, I wrote about unlocking your inner editor when you really need her. But once you’ve tuned into your inner editor, where do you go from there? When you’re faced with an editing project, you can feel overwhelmed pretty easily. After having written a first draft, you may not know where to begin when making changes and improvements.

Not too long ago, I found a blog post that presented six simple steps that you can follow when editing a project. Kristen Lamb, an author who writes about writing, has created this great list of editing tips. The first four tips on Kristen’s list point out unnecessary words and exposition that may be cluttering up your writing. These include redundant adverbs, stage direction, movement of body parts, and physiological descriptions. You can find examples of each of these in Kristen’s original post.

Kristen’s final two tips are just pieces of general advice: aim for active voice rather than passive voice and don’t constantly try to vary the “said” tag. Again, more detail explanations of these can be found in the original blog post.

I think all of these tips are very valuable and should be kept in mind if you’re beginning to edit a project. The best part about these steps is that you can do them pretty easily. They’re a good jumping-off point. If you have no idea where to begin, you can begin with these steps. Sometimes having a system within which to work helps your productivity. I’m willing to bet that, as you search for these items to trim from your writing, you’ll find other areas you can improve. Jot those down as you go, so that you know which larger areas to pinpoint when you’ve finished following these six steps.

Personally, I love having a system to start from. If you’re like me, then this system of six editing steps will likely help you begin whatever editing project you need to complete. I hope that this advice helps you, and I wish you luck in your next editing project!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Inner Editor

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http://lagemoyen.blogspot.com

The inner editor can be a great asset that improves your writing, but it can also act as a barrier to progress. During National Novel Writing Month, everyone places a lot of focus on silencing that inner editor. If we didn’t, those 50,000 words would never get written in just one month. The inner editor is that voice in your head that tells you to backspace certain words in favor of others, cut entire swaths of your story, and generally improve upon what you’re creating. While this can be disastrous for someone speed-writing their way toward a large word count goal, it can be a great help to anyone moving at a slower pace and wishing to put out their best product.

Of course, that best product is not going to be created on your first try. I don’t know anyone who can create a perfect first draft. So, no matter how much you indulge your inner editor while writing, you’re going to have to call upon her again once you’ve finished. I recently found a post about learning how to use your inner editor, which was written by Denise Long.In her post, Denise has some great advice regarding editing, including the need for distance from your piece and the idea that you should beat up your manuscript, but not yourself. But I especially like what she has to say about editing and perspective:

Next, change your perspective. When you’re writing a draft, you often become caught up in the moment of the piece; the story, the characters, the scenes, and action all become a part of you. The self-editing process, however, should be about thinking critically from the outside looking in. For some writers, a change in location or medium can help shift thinking. If you typically use a particular room in your house to write, set up camp elsewhere to edit. If you’re used to reading your work on the screen, consider printing it out when it’s time to revise. Something as simple as a new backdrop or holding physical pages in your hand can help refocus your mind and energy.

Denise is right — the mindset that we have when writing is totally different from the one we should have when editing. This goes along with the concept of gaining distance from your story. In order to effectively edit your own work, you must remove yourself from it. Writing is such an engrossing activity, one in which the author dives head first into their project and doesn’t come out again until it’s finished. It’s important to avoid diving back in when you go to edit your work. Instead, stand back and look at your work through new eyes to see what needs to be changed.

So, if you’re beginning to edit, remember that you must sometimes take time to switch that inner editor back on and distance yourself from the story you were embedded in. Once you’ve learned that — and you might have to learn it multiple times — you’re ready to edit.

Happy Writing! And if any of you are past that stage, Happy Editing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: The Right Order

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Although we all struggle with moments of writer’s block, hopefully we all also experience flashes of inspiration when we can’t seem to write down the words fast enough. When I get into a groove of writing, I know that I have to seize that moment and get everything written down so that I don’t lose the moment of inspiration. Of course, when you’re writing at rapid speed like that, you may miss a few things. You may misspell some things, or mis-name your character. As you’re hurrying through, you may even include some important actions or plot points in the wrong order.

Naturally, you will pick up on these things when you begin the editing process for your writing project. In the 10 Tips about Process post on Writer Unboxed, there was a great tip for editing of this kind.

6. Is the action of the book in the right order? This is a weak point for me. Sometimes I find myself writing very fast, following an idea in order to capture it. When I look back, the progression of paragraphs almost always needs reordering. Or, I might have a character skipping steps by taking an action early on that shouldn’t happen until later in the story, a sure way to leave the character with no options going forward.

I think this is a fantastic writing tip, and something that you should definitely look for as you’re editing. When you’re reading through your finished story, you likely have had some time away from the project. That distance will let you read your own words with more objectivity. And that objectivity may lead you to realize that, in your haste to capture the words blooming in your brain, you hurried along too quickly.

Pacing can be a very tricky thing, and it’s something that’s almost always perfected in the second draft rather than the first. When you’re first writing your story and getting those ideas down on paper, you’re not always thinking about how the story should unfold at a good pace for readers. As of that first draft, the story only exists in your head. When you begin the second draft, however, you will see the story more as a product for others to — eventually — consume. That will help you edit for pacing and for placement of certain actions within your story.

I hope this helps you if you’re in the midst of editing and aren’t sure what to do about mis-ordered scenes. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Advice: Notating & Editing

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As writers, we are often told to set aside our manuscripts for a while after working on them tirelessly for months on end. I consider this to be a great piece of advice because it puts space between you and the work, and gives you a clearer mind when thinking about the project. In that time, however, you can forget the finer points of what you were working on. When you revisit your manuscript, and are preparing to edit it, it might be a good idea to take some notes.

If you’re still in school, then you’ll know that notes help you study up for exams. Think of your second draft as an exam of sorts and your first draft as a type of lecture notes. It’s your job to comb that first draft and add your own notations. Anything that will tip you off to things that need changing or improving as you work on that second draft should be included in your notes.

Chuck Wendig has something to say about this, as usual. In his post, 25 Steps to Edit the Unmerciful Suck Out of Your Story, he mentioned notes as an important tool. In step 5, he says, “Don’t only use the time to highlight stuff that doesn’t work. Highlight the things that do work, as well — stuff that, to you, counts as components of the story that do what they were designed to do. And okay, fine, if you want to drop the emotionless edit-bot motif for a second, feel free to doodle little happy faces or gold stars or tentacled elder gods giving you a thumbs-up (er, tentacles-up) in the margins to indicate: I’m making a note here — “HUGE SUCCESS.”

Chuck’s advice is great because it encourages you to not only take note of what you need to change, but also what doesn’t need to change at all. Sure, you may think of your first draft as incredibly rough and even not very good, but there are certainly some gems in there that you’ll want to keep. Take note of those good things and, as Chuck says here, give yourself a smiley face now and then so you feel better about yourself as you rip into your story.

Notes don’t have to be too intrusive, but I do think they’re important. As I’ve begun editing my latest project, I’ve been adding in notes using the “comments” feature on Google Docs just to remind myself what needs to be fixes as I re-write. I would suggest familiarizing yourself with the comments feature in Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or whichever writing software you prefer. Happy note-taking!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Editing in 4 Steps

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There’s no denying that editing is a complex and sometimes irritating process. Sometimes I think the community of writers can be divided into two camps — those who enjoy editing their work, and those who don’t. During my day job, I do a lot of editing of other people’s writing. For me, that’s much easier than editing something I’ve written myself. It can be so hard to gain distance from the words you’ve put on the page, and have the wherewithal to cut what you’ve created to pieces. Once you have that distance, though, it can be helpful to know what steps to take next. According to a post on the Writer’s Digest blog, there are four steps to editing.

In the first step, according to this post, you should perform “close-in writing.” This process consists of doing your daily writing and then, before you move on to write some more, go back and edit or revise what you wrote for the day. In the second step, which they call the “close-in edit,” you should go through your entire first draft and edit/revise it in digital form. The third step, called “the distance edit,” calls for an edit via hard copy. The fourth and final step, “the oral edit,” entails reading your story or poem aloud, and make notes where things sound awkward.

Overall, I think these steps could be very useful if followed when trying to edit a piece of writing. I find it interesting, though, that some of these steps advise editing as soon as you’ve written something, or that editing should be intertwined with the writing process. The way it has always been presented to me is that you get the writing done completely, and then you go back and look it over to edit. But that may just be my years of National Novel Writing Month talking.

Whichever method or set of steps you choose to follow, I hope that your editing process goes well! Are you in the middle of editing something right now? What methods do you use? Share your thoughts in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Sucking at First

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Let’s face it, no one is good at something the first time they try it. This goes for writing, painting, acting, cooking — basically anything. The first time you try it out, you’re probably going to suck at it. When you think about it, we’re all quite good at sucking at things. What we’re not very good at is allowing ourselves to suck. Generally, we tend to be hard on ourselves when our first writing piece, for instance, does not fall out of us as pure gold. Setting aside Anne Lamott’s rule of shitty first drafts, I’m sure we all have pieces of writing that we don’t want anyone to ever read. I know I have many old documents saved on my computer from my teen days that should never see the light of day. What we can take solace in, though, is that every writer goes through that terrible phase.

There are two great quotes or pieces of advice about this sort of thing. The first one comes from Chuck Wendig, in his post about being a happier writer. In the post, Wendig flat-out says that we need to give ourselves permission to suck. He goes on to say, “Leap into the beyond. Fingerpaint like a boss. Remove the pressure of quality and give yourself permission to suck. Remember: with writing, you can always fix it in post. Why do you think Word Jesus invented the Editing Process? PRAISE WORD JESUS.” 

Now, I don’t know about any Word Jesus (maybe Chuck Wendig is my Word Jesus), but Wendig is completely right here. As writers, we are often striving for perfection on our first try. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to write something good, but it’s just not going to happen in your first draft. That’s why there’s editing, and that’s why the first draft is not what you publish. Feel free to go wild with ideas and if you write a drab paragraph here and there, always remember that you can spice it up later on.

Another piece of advice on this matter that I love comes from This American Life’s Ira Glass. A while back, Glass made this quote about storytelling and about how everyone sucks at first. Basically, he says that everyone who makes a creative endeavor has good taste in terms of what is quality, but there is a gap at the beginning where we can’t seem to translate that into our own And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.” Create, create, create. And eventually you’ll get out of that phase.

The most important thing to remember is that this phase doesn’t last forever. Sure, you’ll still have shitty first drafts, but that will never go away. All you can do is keep on writing, or acting, or painting, or cooking until you jump that hurdle and start making good art.

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Re-read to Edit

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One of my resolutions for the new year is to edit the novel I’m currently writing. I started this novel back in November for National Novel Writing Month and, thanks to another resolution regarding writing every day, I’ve been working on it all month so far. I still have a lot more to write, but when I finish it I want to commit to editing the manuscript and polishing up the story. As such, I’ve been reading about editing and have been seeking out advice on what to do first and how to approach the task. As per usual, this search for information has led me to Chuck Wendig. Wendig has a post on his blog entitled, “25 Steps to Edit the Unmerciful Suck Out of Your Story.”

Steps one through three on the list have to do with stepping away from your work, and then letting other people read it. I’m going to skip those for now because a) I’ve written here before about putting distance between you and your work, and b) letting other people read what I’ve written is not something I’m able to do right now. If you can, dispense your work to some beta readers, my dear blog readers! If not, that would bring us to step 4, which Chuck has helpfully labeled The Re-Read. Chuck says:

You need to re-read your book. It’s time. Sit down with it. Print it out and plop it in your lap. Or smear it onto your iPad or computer monitor. Whatever it takes: just re-read that sonofabitch. Do this quickly. You’re not reading for pleasure…the object behind reading it swiftly is to see the entire picture and that often necessitates burning through it like a garbage fire.

Just reading this bit of advice makes me feel apprehensive about the actual re-reading. For one thing, I don’t know when I’m going to find the time to do this. I have a lot of stuff that I’m currently reading, so I know this is going to cut into my other leisure reading. But I do find what Chuck says to be very interesting. If I hadn’t read this, I would not have thought to read quickly through the manuscript. I would have thought I was looking for little bits and bobs that need to be changed. But what he says here is true — it’s good to read quickly so you see the big picture. It’s so difficult to see the big picture when you’re actually in the midst of writing.

If you’re at that point in your writing project where you’re getting ready to edit, check out Chuck’s post and then prepare for the re-read. I’ll be doing this re-read in the next two months or so, if everything goes according to schedule. I wish you the time, energy, and courage to go back and read what you have written. Happy writing & editing!

– Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Writing Advice: Art of Editing

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Let’s face it, folks. Editing is one of the hardest things about writing. Sure, it can be tough to sit in front of a blank page and get started, but I think it’s even tougher to sit in front of a completed piece with red pen — metaphorical or not — in hand. When faced with a piece that you have deemed finished, it can be difficult to decide where to cut and where to pare down. Even more difficult, in my opinion, is taking that step back and surveying your piece as a whole to see what is missing and what needs to be addressed as you pursue the editing process.

Yes, editing is a thorny practice. Luckily, there are a lot of great tips out there for you. For instance, there is this Lifehacker post that contains five great tips for editing your own work. Their big, main points include printing out the piece you want to edit, putting distance between you and the completed piece, reading the piece aloud, pretending to be in the piece’s intended audience as you look at it, and being ruthless with what you’ve created. These are all fantastic tips and I think they’ve really hit on the five main tenets to remember when editing your own writing.

My personal favorite on this list, which is a piece of advice that I swear by for my own work, is reading your work aloud. Quoting from the post:

“…actually listening to your written syntax is one of the best ways you can catch areas with jangling phrasing. Read your work out loud and change anything that doesn’t make sense or that you stumble over.”

When reading something silently, it’s easy for your eyes to simply gloss over possible errors or clunky sounding phrases. When you’re reading it out loud, for some reason that forces your brain to work harder at deciphering the words you’ve put down. This will immediately ferret out anything that doesn’t sound quite right.

Check out Lifehacker’s post about tips for editing your own work, and happy editing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan