Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Importance of Editing

Editing is not the creative fun part of writing where you let your imagination run wild. However, it has it's own pleasures. I find it satisfying to cut and polish a a piece of writing until it says exactly what I want. I don't always succeed, but it's challenging to try.

Editing has three phases. The first phase takes your rough draft and hones it into a story that carries the reader into your fictional space. This phase can be unsettling because it may require cutting large hunks of your manuscript and reordering scenes. In this phase, one pass may not be enough, but you can move on to the second phase and come back. There are no rules for how many times you should run through a manuscript. Even ten or fifteen times may not be too many. On the other hand, two or three passes might be enough.

In the second phase, you reword clumsy sentences, find the exact word you want to express your thought, and flesh out scenes and characters. For me, this phase takes several passes. I suspect it does for most people and can lead to a return to phase one after you decided exactly what you want to say and what sequence of events works best.

The third phase is copy editing. This is the time to perfect your grammar, find typos, and correct format issues. In some respects, it's the most tedious phase, but perhaps the most important for the sake of your reader. Readers typically don't like to reread sentences several times because you've left out a comma that would make the whole thing clear.

I recently reviewed a book, APE – How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch. They consider this phase so important they suggest you hire a copy editor. This is good advice, if you can afford it, but first I suggest you polish up your grammar and spelling and give the book a good pass yourself. Copy editors are not perfect, and you need to know whether you've hired a pro, or someone trying to make a buck by fooling the unwary. It's also true that there is a certain amount of flexibility in punctuation rules. Commas, for instance, seem sometimes to be a personal preference, at least that's my observation on the basis of the books I've read, many of them by major publishers. However, there are some rules for commas that do apply to all writing.

So editing may not be classified as fun, but there's something tremendously satisfying when you hold your book and know it's the best you can make it. By the way, Kawasaki and Welch have written an extremely useful book, it's worth a look.

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