Guest post by Mariana Ashley
I’ve known a lot of different writers in my day. Hundreds of them actually, from all different writing backgrounds including short fiction, poetry, screenplay, playwriting, academic research, journalism, entertainment review and of course, blogging. Of all these different writing backgrounds, I’ve noticed one universal truth: Writers don’t like editing.
Allow me to clarify. All the good writers realize the value of editing and force themselves to do it. I have also come to the realization that many of the writers I know who do like editing are actually not that good at it. These writers tend to think of editing as quick and easy. Editing, if actually effective, is never quick and easy.
However, there are some aspects and methods of editing that are more enjoyable (or at least less boring) than others. Let’s quickly go over some of the more conventional editing methods:
• Take a Break. Writers will often go immediately into editing as soon as they’ve finished writing. Take some time to get some distance from your writing, and then your mistakes and errors will become that much more apparent. This will also give you time to rethink the goals of your writing, as these can often morph or become lost in the writing process.
• Close Reading. Every piece of writing should receive at least one close reading before any other eyes see it. While close reading, you may spot grammar errors, misspellings, and sentences or plot points that simply don’t make sense.
• Quick Reading. This can actually be extremely effective and is surprisingly underused. A quick read through a draft will get you to question more of the obvious, structural elements of your work as opposed to gritty details. Did you really need to dedicate those few paragraphs to that character? Is there any part of the narrative that’s completely underdeveloped? A quick read will point things like this out quickly.
• Read Aloud. This is one of the most effective ways for me to not only find mistakes but also find awkward phrasings. Great for proofreading.
• Change Document Formatting. You’d be surprised how changing the document formatting (font, spacing, color) will give you more of a fresh perspective when you edit. It’s an effective psychological way of distancing yourself from your first draft.
• Outline. A great way of determining whether your paper has optimal structure, outlining is extremely valuable both pre-writing and in the editing process. You can outline on your document itself by just segmenting different chunks of your writing and labeling them.
When the Conventional Methods Just Aren’t Doing it for You
As great as the methods listed above are, sometimes they still don’t give your writing the change and modifications it needs. I find this tends to happen mostly because of structural or thematic issues. Essentially, your writing is not hitting the meat of an issue it set out to examine or your writing is ordered in a strange way that undermines the purpose of the work.
This proposed method is an extension of outlining your writing, so be sure to outline your work if you haven’t already. Once your writing is outlined as you see fit, find some notecards, and write each segment of the outline on a separate notecard. Now shuffle them.
While this restructuring is random at first, it will immediately give you ideas as to which order of ideas in your writing is better than others. It’s hard to just look at an outline and decide what the best structure should be. Shuffling is a more hands-on approach that allows you to find the best structure through process of elimination and inductive reasoning.
You may also realize that your outline should be more or less detailed. Making a second or third outline is absolutely wonderful for this editing method. It allows you to base re-structuring on whatever components you see fit (ideas, evidence, plot, character introduction). Best of all, this type of editing, while time consuming, is also very fun and exciting. With this editing method, you can literally see a dead work of writing come to life.
Photo credit: Jakub Krechowicz