Editing: A Ritual

Posted: September 29, 2012 in Discussions, On Writing
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To me, editing is a ritual. There are certain things I do every time I finish a first draft of a story. I know that everyone is different, and what works for me may not work for you, but here’s what I do, maybe it’ll help.

First off, I always do a spell/grammar check on my word processor. Once I’ve gone through and fixed everything the computer noticed was wrong, I print out a copy of the story. After I’ve got all my pages printed, I set the story aside for at least a week, sometimes more.

Why? You might ask. When I’ve been working on a story for a while, it’s so engrained in my mind that when I read it, I’m somehow able to gloss over any issues or mistakes simply because I know how the story goes, I know how it’s supposed to read so I just think that’s how it does. I’ve read somewhere (I can’t remember where) that there is a certain amount of time which the writer should put away their work before editing or sending it out. For short stories I think it was two to three months, whereas with a novel it was more like six months to a year. The author (of whatever it was I was reading) said that the writer needs to forget about the story completely, don’t even think about it, that way when you pull it out later, you are able to look at it objectively, rather than doing what I tend to do when I’ve been working on a story. To me, those guidelines are way too long. It would take me forever to get a story ready to send out to a publisher. That’s why I shortened the timeframe. It’s up to you how long you want to put your work away for, or if you even want to put it away at all.

Any way, back to my point.

Once I’ve waited a bit, I go through the printed copy with a red pen (always red never black or blue), and mark/correct any mistakes. I used to remember the correction marks I was taught in school, but since I’ve forgotten them and have no desire to learn them again, I just came up with my own. After my story has been completely edited, I start a new file in my word processor and begin typing it all over again with my changes. When that’s done, I let it sit again, for a week or two, sometimes a month, and then I read back through it, making any changes I feel it may need while I read, and I save that copy as the third draft (rather than retyping it again). Generally, I only do three drafts, but sometimes I’ll notice something else that needs to be changed, and I’ll edit accordingly and save it as another draft, just as I do with my third. Occasionally, I’ll have my mom go through and look for mistakes, but she works in another state, so I’m not always able to let her read a story before I send it out.

As I’d mentioned, this is just one way to do it, and it’s my way. This may not work for you. Try a few different things and figure out what works best for you. Or, if you have your own editing ritual, share it, maybe you’ll help me or someone else.

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