Monday 5 October 2020

A guide to editing your work

Most of the collective knowledge concerning the editing of written work will suggest that the only way to, in fact, edit written work, of any substantial length, is to hand it over to an editor.

This is a joy a lot of writers don't know, I love the editing process. It's exhilarating to have someone give your work, that was once just an idea in your brain, feedback, good or bad.

But getting the most out of that process means doing your very best to present as finished a written work as possible to the editor.

As such, self-editing is not only a requisite skill that needs to be developed, but a tool that can be applied if adequately known.

Here is my process for self-editing to add to your writer's toolbox.

Step 1:

Keep a list of all proper nouns and personal misspelled words. The proper nouns are the big thing. Every Bob and James and Susan needs to be checked for proper capitalization and use. pluralization and overall consistency. If you're writing a series this is a must as a growing cast makes for a growing number of dumb mistakes the search function of a Word document would find and fix for you. the flip side of this coin is your personal foils of commonly misspelled words.

I rarely misspell big ones like fluctuation or anticipation, but I'll screw up for and from and form all the livelong day. So I painstakingly check these via the search function of MS Word and catch every single one that I can. 

Step 2:

After the big words and tricky words are dealt with you now use the same process on the weird things that happen in a manuscript that has been worked in for more than one or two days. Double and triple spaces, commas where periods should be after and before quotation marks. you can also use the pilcrow button and see the invisible marks that make up an electronic document like page breaks and indentations that won't show up in the document but will screw with your ebook formating.

Step 3:

After all of that, I take the document out a chapter at a time, usually from the end of the document, backward to the beginning, and run it through a third party grammar and spelling checker. I like Grammarly, but there is a host of others. all free and all useful.

This is important because if you only trust one algorithm you fall into a weird kind of cognitive bias with your own writing. After correcting what MS Word tells you is a spelling mistake or a grammar use problem for a consistent amount of time, you will change how you write to suit your word processor. by using two different word processors this allows for more and more questionable sections to be seen from mos importantly more than one angle. Grammarly hyphenates a lot of things MS Word doesn't, subtle differences, but important nonetheless.

Step 4:

hand the book over to another human being. This can be a beta reader or a professional copy editor but in the new world of self-publishing Amazon and Kobo have ushered in, what this doesn't have to be is a developmental editor. someone who is going to tell you to change things about your story or book because of an editorial standard their publishing house has or wants. to get a good and polished manuscript you really just need a second and sometimes a third set of eyes to look at your book and catch what they can. this can be a friend or a beta reader swap from one of the hundreds of online writing communities, or a freelance professional editor who will give your book the treatment can do so quickly and professionally.

I love this part because books are meant to be shared, I did not get into writing to write journals that I kept to myself. Hearing what works and what doesn't, what's confusing, and finding the last few little mistakes is soooooooo rewarding.

Step 5:

While a bit tricky my final step is to have the book read back to you. There are a number of online and free tools that will do this and my personal process is a bit weird so bear with me. I use an online service that allows for an accent change in the read back voice. I use a British accented female voice. I know that sounds weird, but the voice change catches every last word I used wrong because it's voiced differently.

Step 6: (Optional)

The last and final step takes a bit of break from the manuscript, 4-6 weeks, and then upon returning to change the writing font to something drastically different than what you draft in. I do all my drafting in Georgia so when I do this step I wait 4 weeks and change the font to Arial or Courier New. the manuscript gets longer and I'm forced to read every word I now do not recognize. This is the only way I know to combat word blindness. If you have never experienced word blindness pick a simple word in your story like Dad and then search for all occurrences of the word in your book. something you wouldn't spell wrong and start checking every time you used it. By the end of your second or third page, you will start to notice the three-letter word DAD looks wrong even though you know an a flanked by two D's is in fact how you spell dad. This is rapid onset word blindness caused by reading the same word too many times. it stops being a literary unit of information used to convey the concept of a father and turns into a singular blob of questionable meaning, mainly because your brain got bored.

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