How To Be A Good Editor For Yourself & Others

Editing used to be an intimidating part of the writing process. But now, I appreciate it more as I grow as a writer. As editor, I recognize the importance in helping others shape into the best writer they can be. And as the one being edited, I welcome and appreciate feedback.

However, there are a few elements of editing that make me ponder its true intent. It is a cross-out conundrum if you will.

There are three questions that bump around my mind when I think about editing:

What are the reasons we edit?
When is the right time to edit?
When is editing 100% finished?

Many of the reasons to edit are obvious. But are all of the reasons as blatant as we believe? Editing helps us chase down spelling errors, grammar mistakes, awkward phrasing, odd word choice, and more. The process of editing takes time for a reason.

When we are put into the position to edit someone else’s work, we scan the material with a critical eye. We hold the piece to a high standard as if purchased at a local bookstore. We read carefully, slowly, aiming to catch each mistake.

By being a member of a peer editing group, you are interacting with a mixture of different writers who specialize in various genres and styles. Beyond this experience exposing you to the diverse culture of writing, you will be reading and editing pieces of literature that are not in your preferred genre. This is an opportunity to engage and learn about a genre you’re unknowledgeable about.

Peer editing groups will likely involve you reading work that just isn’t for you. When offering suggestions, do we scribble comments in the margins that alter the story to make ourselves enjoy the piece better or to make it genuinely more interesting for the author and in turn, their readers?

When I edit my own work, I am trying to improve the piece to always reflect who I am as a writer on each and every page. I am aware of the quality of work I produce and am able to pinpoint exactly where my work is slipping. I think this is the mindset we must apply while editing another’s work. Before we begin reading and recommending, it is important to know the author’s own hopes and ambitions for the piece. Understanding their goals can help us to realize what the piece is doing well and where it can be improved.

The traditional writing process says to edit after the final draft is complete. In my creative writing projects, I used to follow this system faithfully. Now, I have adopted my own editing process that feels more natural and allows each section of my story to have its own dedicated time to be read and edited.

My outlines detail each chapter. When I am writing books I read each chapter once I reach the end. I take the editing process sentence by sentence. Any spelling or grammatical errors are always the easiest to catch. Beyond those changes, I make sure the flow is perfect and the pacing is appropriate. Rereading each chapter reminds me of the content and I am able to catch any inconsistencies sooner rather than later.

Once the first draft is complete, I start editing at the beginning again and work my way through the novel. Since editing is a slow process, I find it helpful to print the story and suspend it in a 3-ring binder. Having the physical form in front of me helps to boost focus, stay organized, and make the rough draft feel as real as possible.

Once my red pen has finished its duty, I go page by page, inserting the changes into the digital document. Then, just for extra measure, the story earns a final read.

The editing stage can happen at different times depending on the writer. Some writers never glance back at their work until the final page is written, just in prevention to not fall into the pit of rewriting and rehashing the same scenes. This can lead to a lack of progression as the story can experience long pauses before continuing.

As a writer and editor, you must find what works best for you.

One of my college professors said that the road of editing is never complete. There will always be something to change, fix, update. Even authors of published work can wonder what their story would have turned out to be if other plots were explored. Someone will always have an opinion of what to add and remove. And sometimes pesky errors sneak up in our writing that were once overlooked.

While the finish line of editing may never quite be achieved, writers can reach full satisfaction within their work. Through stages of editing and revising, an author should be fully proud with the final version and have no second-thoughts upon publication. While writing is all about sharing stories and entertaining readers, a writer’s own perception of their work is most important.

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