When I visit schools and libraries, if I mention editing or rewriting, I usually get the same response; eyes glaze over, people avoid my gaze and others hide behind their hands. Many people think that editing is an evil and pointless invention designed to send writers crazy – but every writer comes to understand how invaluable this process is eventually.
Think of it this way: every good book you have ever read has been edited. In fact, every good book you have ever read has been edited multiple times. And every author that has written a good book has struggled with the editing process at some time or another, just like you. There, are you feeling a little better? Good. Now, let’s take a look at how editing can help your writing and how you might make the process a little easier to deal with.
Editing can feel daunting, but trust me, you’ll feel great when you compare your original draft to the end product. You’ll also learn plenty along the way. A famous writer called Ernest Hemingway said that ‘writing is rewriting’ – and he was right! No writer writes a perfect first draft. Editing is not a punishment; it’s an opportunity to make your writing shine. The first draft is for getting an idea started and getting to know your characters; but rewriting will make your writing sparkle.
You might not know where to begin when it comes to rewriting, so I recommend that you start by printing out your work. Computer screens make things too tidy so your eyes skip over mistakes. It’s also easier to consider your novel or story from the perspective of a reader when it’s on a printed page. Make sure you print out using 1.5 or double spacing, so there is room to make notes on the page.
The next step is to read your work through without making any notes, to get an overall feel of the story. This is very difficult to do, but reminding yourself of the overall story before you start marking the page can really help. Next, read your story with a coloured pen in hand (so your comments are easy to spot), and make notes as you go. Concentrate on the essence of the story and the characters; spellings and grammatical mistakes can be fixed later. Don’t worry if the manuscript looks messy; this is a good sign, so long as you can understand what you’ve written for typing up later.
Sometimes, obstacles can seem very difficult to overcome; maybe your character doesn’t always behave consistently, or perhaps the plot doesn’t really make sense in the middle. But see your writing as a puzzle with lots of pieces. Making that puzzle fit properly is a challenge, but if you notice a problem, so will a reader, so it makes sense to keep working at your piece until it’s complete. I often do whole drafts looking at just one element at a time – plot first, then character consistency, and then dialogue, before looking at language, spelling and grammar. I find I can focus better this way, so if the prospect of rewriting seems daunting, give this a try.
You may need a bit of space before you can figure out what a particular issue is when you’re rewriting; I often leave my manuscript aside for a month, and when I go back, I see things more clearly. You might not have a month, but even an hour or a day can work wonders – and you’ll feel great when something that’s been bugging you falls into place.
Find a Good Reader
Once you think your story is good enough, give it to someone that you trust for feedback. You want a reader who will ask questions and give suggestions, without being unkind. When you receive your feedback, take a deep breath; sometimes the bits you think are the best can be problematic, but if one reader is confused, it’s likely that more will be too. I’d recommend you think on the feedback before acting on it.
The Writing Journey
Editing can take a long time, but it’s time well spent. Writing is not just about the end product; it’s also about the journey. When a reader picks up a book or story, they want to believe in the characters, be gripped by the plot, and feel real emotions. A writer can only make this happen by going on a journey themselves, writing and rewriting, discovering new things and tying up loose threads along the way.
Personally, I love the editing process because it means you get a second chance to say what you meant to say, and say it well – you can even reward yourself with three, four or even ten more drafts to get it right. My first book, The Book of Learning, had fourteen drafts in total, but my second book Caramel Hearts needed only seven. My third book, The Book of Shadows, is on its fifth draft, with a few more on the way.
Every book or story is different, but the important thing is that you give your writing the chance to be the best it can possibly be. So take a deep breath, pick up a pen and take hold of your manuscript. And remember:
- Print out your story
- Read through your story without making notes
- Make notes using coloured pens as you reread your story
- Give yourself a break and return to your work with fresh eyes
- Get feedback from a good reader
Your Tips for Editing?
Every writer works differently, and I’m always open to new ideas, so I’d love to hear your tips on editing and rewriting in the comments below. Until next time, happy writing!