Friday, 23 March 2012

Editing; its pitfalls and importance

As much as writing scares people with the blank page being a major obstacle, so editing terrifies them.
Thinking about editing seems to bring on different reactions:

1. Complete paralysis

I know many people who manage the writing phase fine. They pour out what they know, enjoy putting the words on the page then they’re stuck. They maybe look back at the text, but because they’ve poured out so many words, they don’t know how to re-work it and are afraid to start.

2. I’m a writer syndrome

This reaction is common among many creative writers but isn’t confined to them. They believe that because the words came from their unconscious mind, they must all have equal value and shouldn’t be touched. This results in 1000 page novels and woolly text on websites.

If you understand the writing stage as being simply that, the stage when you pour out what you think you want to say, then you understand that your work will need pruning. In this stage you’re going to be like a persuasive hairdresser who works on a head of hair to reveal the beauty of the person underneath the hair.

3. The grammar has to be right syndrome

Grammar is important. I spent many years in school learning it. And I’ve had to unlearn some of it to become a business writer. Why? Because the main point of writing, indeed probably the only real point is to make a connection. The connection between you the writer and your reader is sacred, is vital and without it you may as well not bother to write.

So how can I make it easier for you to edit your work? As always I break processes down into smaller stages. It makes it simpler to deal with and work through. I believe there are three stages in editing.

Major editing

Under this heading I include altering the layout of the piece you’re writing. Which if you’ve done your research and you’re clear about why you’re writing, should not be a problem for you.  If you still need a major rethink then one way I do it is to print off all the pages, lay them out on the table or floor and re-assess if each piece is in the best place. It’s odd but physically handling the writing brings new thoughts and connections.

 Minor editing.

Here we’re talking about taking the piece section by section and checking it for inconsistencies of headings, fonts and styles. If you’ve set up all your styles at the beginning you shouldn’t need this but it’s always best to check it out because we all slip up sometimes.

This is where you do your grammar, spelling and sense check. Just because your spellcheck says something is spelled right, doesn’t mean it’s the right word. Think of the differences between their, there and they’re. Spell check programmes show you multiple choices which don’t help you choose.

This is also the place to take out all the prhases you use too much. We all have them and yours will appear without you remembering you used them.

Use the readability stats that you find in tools in Word. After you’ve done the spell check these should come up automatically. They’ll show you whether you have too high a level of passive sentences. Active is better. The text is more alive and moves along faster.

Proof reading

Even when you’ve done major and minor edits you need to proof read. Or better you need to find someone else to do it for you. If you’ve written a major piece of work then this is vital. It will cost you because proof reading is not cheap. Or rather good proof reading isn’t. but it makes all the difference.

If you really don’t have a budget for proof reading then find someone who has the skill and offer barter. Cook them a meal, dig their garden or do whatever it takes.

But please don’t skimp on this stage.

Depending on the length of your piece then this stage can be done in an hour, a day or it could take several weeks. It’s important because clear editing can make the difference between an okay piece of text and a good one. Or the difference between a good piece and one that knocks your reader sideways with amazement.

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