Sunday, January 20, 2008

Edit-orial II ~ Self-editing

The other day I wrote about the new tech age of editing. Just like everything else, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Editing electronically, with all the new-fangled features, was a different experience for me in the beginning. I do feel like I'm a more "accomplished" user, now.

Many authors have a routine about how they write and edit. Some writers will move straight through the manuscript, laying down words and pages, and not look back until they get to the end. Others edit as they go. This works for me. When starting new for the day, I usually start with the previous days' work and re-read. This not only gets me into the flow of the last work I did, but allows me to edit and revise as I go. This editing is usually surface editing--the obvious typos and miss-spellings, a funky sentence, something obviously out-of-whack. Sometimes, I will go deeper and flesh out a paragraph or two if the mood strikes me to do so. By the time I've worked through that passage, I'm ready to move on to new materials, confident that the previous is in fairly good shape.

But it is not finished yet. The entire ms will go several more processes before it is ready to be sent off to my editor.

This is what I call self-editing and I've learned an important process for preventing all those track/changes and comments that may come later. Part of this comes from building rapport with my editor--one piece of the process. A very important piece. Now that she and I have gone through a couple of projects together, we have better understanding of each other's styles, quirks, expectations, pet peeves, and so on. For sure, there are things that I know are on my editor's pet peeve list. Will I always edit to please her? Probably, for the most part. If it affects my voice, or my character's motivation, I'll probably stick to my guns. Will she stick to hers? Yes, of course. We've both done some give-and-take. And we've both had our own small victories.

All that is okay. We're still doing that dance, learning to build the relationship. It's important to both of us.

When I sent my final edits off to her earlier in the week, I commented that I felt the ms was pretty clean, because I'd put it through the final "(editor name) list." She laughed and asked what list that was. I told her that I'd been keeping a list of every word or phrase she had ever mentioned that was overused in my text. Now, one of the last things I do before tying up the ms with a big red bow, is do a final search for the words on the list. (Of course as I'm writing I try to avoid up front, if possible, but they do slip in anyway.)

If the sentence can be improved by changing that word or rewriting the sentence, then I do it. The result is much tighter and more original writing. Simply, it works.

So what kinds of words/phrases are on my list? Here are a few to watch out for (and she tells me these are common mistakes in writing).
  • thing
  • just
  • a bit
  • that
  • had, had been and 'd (contractions)
  • damned (used improperly, delete 'ed)
  • And (used as the first word in a sentence, use sparingly)
  • at her; at him
  • around her; around him
  • here/there
  • 'ly words
  • at once
There you have it. The list. I'm sure I'll be adding to it. Oh, and guess what? You know what makes this so cool and easy to do? It's the technology thing. Just do a "find" on the word or phrase. First, I do a search for how many are in the whole document, and note that number. I try to cut that number in half, or more, depending. Sometimes I can eliminate nearly all of them. Once I've found how many, then I move to looking at each individual word and sentence to see if it can be improved, and how.

Time-consuming, maybe. But it cuts down on the final editing, and that is always a good thing.


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