Peggy Bechko: Tips for Editing What You Write

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by Peggy Bechko

You’re a writer and let’s face it, editing probably isn’t your favorite thing to do. No surprise there. But there are some guidelines I keep I mind that make it easier for me and might for you as well.

First I keep in mind that there’s a time for writing and there’s a time for editing. There’s no doing both at once, it just won’t work. I have to turn the crazy writer lose to get that story written and out there.

If I try to edit at the same time and keep second-guessing myself it’s far too easy to become overly critical about what I just wrote. So take my advice, tell your inner critic to shut up until the story is actually on paper. Time to edit later.

When later arrives I do, however, read what I’ve written over and over and over until I’m nearly darn well sick of the whole thing. There are times when I have to let it rest in between and then go at it again.

BUT, and it’s another big BUT, there’s a fine line between tweaking and editing the writing you’ve just created to death. Really, don’t do it. Learn when to stop and maybe let someone else read it and provide some feed-back.

Write tight. I suspect most authors have a hard time cutting their own work. I know I do. There are some ‘precious babies’ in there! But, when in doubt cut the words. And bear in mind you can probably cut as much as 10 or 15 percent of your word count pretty easily. One book I had published was cut, by me, by more than 25 percent. Get an ax and have at it.

Never trust your spell checker. Seriously. Just don’t. The checker is good to locate the obvious for a quick and dirty edit. It won’t catch things like their, there, they’re, or if typing quickly things like Ties in place of times or horse in place of house or a myriad of other little mistakes.

Read your writing for clunky, overlong and just downright irritating sentences. Sentences with lots of commas, semi-colons and convoluted points to make. You know the ones.

They’re the sentences that have to be read several times just to figure out what’s happening to who. Or who said what to who. Find them. Kill them. Cut them down to size. Read your work out loud, you’ll find them easily.

A professional editor isn’t a bad idea. But if you have friends you can convince to read the writing in progress, print it out and ask them to scribble notes. I’ve found that’s the best way.

Yes, your victims could just receive a word document and add their comments with the tools in the program and I won’t say that wouldn’t be productive. But there’s just something about a printed page in front of a person that seems to make finding the rough spots all that much easier.

Think about these suggestions implement them with your writing and tell me what you think.