How to Edit

How to Edit
November 1, 2016 2 Comments For Authors, Writing Advice J.K. Allen

howLast week we talked about revisions and how to revise. This week we continue moving along the writing process by talking about editing. Editing is the final step of the writing process where we polish our projects and get them ready to send into the world. Some use revising and editing synonymously, but the two are separate processes. Revision is big picture changes while editing is for sentence level concerns, such as grammar and flow. So let’s look at the next step.

First, take a break. This will sound familiar to you after revising, but it’s important to take another break from your WiP before you edit. Once again you’ll want fresh eyes to view your manuscript to catch all those small errors. It’s a lot easier to find missing words, misspellings, and grammar mistakes if you take a break before tackling them.

Second, edit in layers. You’ll have greater focus if you focus on one problem at a time instead of jumping around. You’ll be less likely to miss something as well.

Finally, get organized. Make a list of problems and organize them. Group similar problems together and prioritize them. Print out your manuscript and use different color inked pens for each problem. On the page is much easier to edit than on the screen.

Here’s a list of problems to look for:

  • Is your sentence structure varied? This is both for sentence length and syntax (how the sentence is structured). You don’t want all your sentences to sound the same or be set up the same.
  • Are any words misspelled?
  • Is this the right word choice? Did you pick the best word or phrase for each description and sentence?
  • Does your sentences flow? Read them aloud. If it’s halting or confusing change it.
  • Is your dialogue punctuation correct? For a complete sentence, do you use a comma instead of a period in front of your quotation marks when you’re using attribution tags? Ex) “Just because you say something, doesn’t mean it’s true,” Jenna said. And does each new line of dialogue get a new paragraph?
  • Replace adverbs that tell instead of show. Same with adjectives. Use strong verbs and concrete nouns to show. Instead of she said loudly, use she hollered. Instead of he ran quickly, use he sprinted across. Instead of pretty flowers, use roses.
  • Eliminate passive voice. Using passive voice is when you use the object as the subject of the sentence instead of the subject. So instead of Suzie bought donuts, we have the donuts were bought by Suzie. If you’re unsure if it’s passive or not, try adding “by zombies” to the end of the sentence. If it makes sense, it’s passive voice and you’ll want to make it more active.
  • Check your comma use. Some common comma rules are: 1) use a comma for a direct address, such as “Hey, John.” 2) Use a comma for parenthetical phrases. If you could put the clause in parentheses and the sentence makes sense without the phrase, surround with commas. 3) Use it around prepositional phrases. A preposition is words like on, under, after, behind, etc. 4) Use a comma before a conjunction like and, or, but, so, yet. 5) And use a comma in between two adjectives where you could use and in between. She was young and pretty. She was a young, pretty girl.
  • Check your punctuation use. Does that sentence need a comma or a semicolon? Should you use an em dash or ellipsis? (If your character trails off, use an ellipsis; if they are interrupted, use an em dash.

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This list should help you as you begin editing. Do you enjoy the editing process? What do you struggle most with? Comment below and happy editing!

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J.K. Allen Julia Allen received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Michigan State University. She did her senior thesis in poetry under the tutelage of Diane Wakoski, but has been focused primarily on fiction as of late. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. Julia is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel and can be found at local cafes in her hometown when writing, and painting, drawing, or reading when not.
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