Editing. The least fun part of writing. While we all wish we had a professional copy editor on hand that we could just toss our rough drafts to, editing is part of writing. It’s like giving a car a tune up. Beyond that, submitting copy that hasn’t been edited is one of the main causes of rejection.
Luckily, it’s easier than it seems. Here are a few tips I find helpful to keep my editing on track and make it easier.
1) Don’t Edit, Write
Writing comes first! This is one of those often repeated, often ignored basic dictates of writing. It’s also one of the many rules I’m guilty of breaking on a regular basis. With the exception of the paragraph you’re currently writing, leave everything else in the past and push forward. Focus and finish. Otherwise you’ll end up with a pile of half-finished, well edited stories (I’ve wracked up twenty-seven unfinished stories before I began following this rule.)
2) Stephen King Can, You Cannot
I know your favorite writers break grammatical rules all the time (as I’m certain I’ve done on accident at least once during this article.) But you should not. Remember, Tony Hawk didn’t do a 720 until AFTER he was comfortable doing a 360. I’ve heard it said many times, and I believe it, that editors will often throw aside a manuscript just because a few simple grammatical errors made the writer look inexperienced or lazy. My rejected first book used the word “Fuck” somewhere around sixteen times in one page of dialog. So do a lot of Stephen King books. Why does he get away with it and I don’t? Because he’s Stephen King and I am not.
3) Don’t Edit While You’re Too Familiar
You’ve just hit the period on the final sentence of your masterpiece. Awesome! Put it away. Let it set for a while and forget it while you work on other projects. Even if you can only stand it for for twenty-four hours, you’ve got to give your mind some time to forget the words you just wrote. When you edit your own work you want to see it with fresh eyes. Do your editing in the third person, as though you’re reading someone Else’s work. It took me a full day to notice that this article was titled “Six Editing Tips for Jew Writers,” which would make this a very targeted article indeed.
4) Just Because it’s Spell Checked, Doesn’t Mean it’s Edited
Too, two, to. Wear, where. Know, no. Spell checkers don’t catch word choice issues. They are robots. They can only catch words that are spelled incorrectly. Nor are they infallible. There are hundreds of thousands of words in the English language and no spell checker knows them all. Don’t get me wrong, you MUST spell check your story, but just remember that you still have to edit carefully to make sure you used the correct word, not just the correctly spelled word. If your system has an automatic grammar checker, use it carefully. They are even more fallible than spell checkers.
5) Find Someone Who You Trust to Help You
We’ve all given a story to someone who tells us “This is good.” That’s not your guy/girl. Find someone who can be honest with you, even brutally. If you write Sci-Fi, find someone who loves Sci-Fi, or join a Science Fiction writers group. Find that person, or those people who are willing to give you good, solid, CONSTRUCTIVE feedback on your stories. Then listen to them. Don’t be afraid to kill your favorite ideas if they just don’t work. That doesn’t mean you can’t stick to your guns. Just make sure that your guns are loaded.
6) Read it Aloud
This is a very easy way for a new writer to find issues with their copy. If it doesn’t sound right coming out of your mouth, it won’t sound right to the readers “inner voice.” This is also the only time I’d encourage a new writer to break grammar rules. Sometimes correct grammar doesn’t work for a piece of dialog, or a certain sentence. If it’s good copy it should sound just as good or better read aloud. You’ll also notice issues of a correctly spelled but wrong word more often reading aloud than you will reading to yourself.
If you implement a few of these tips, you can turn editing from a terrifying Lovecraftian chore to a simple annoyance!