Friday, 2 December 2011

Sheppey Writing Workshop: Editing

We were given a wonderful simile for editing this week. Once the story or novel or chapter is finished from start to The End, leave it to rest like a piece of roast beef. But, for how long? An hour? A day? A few weeks? I left Mother's Helper for five years! But would it have made any difference if I had started my editing novel the week after I finished it instead?

For me, yes, it would have. The book needed all that time - I needed all that time - to mature, to be the best it could be. But that's not necessarily the case for everyone. If you can finish writing one minute and start editing the next, good luck to you.

But however long you leave it, the basics of editing remain the same.

Ah yes... Editing. Whether it is a source of pleasure or pain, it has to be done. Well, it should be done. If it's not, how can you be sure that you're offering your best work? Can a first draft ever be the best version of a piece of writing? It does depend on what the writing is for (a note to the milkman probably doesn't need to be pored over), but generally I would say no. No, it is not the best. And I can't imagine many serious writers would be happy with letting the general public read anything that wasn't as close to perfection as possible.

So what should you look for when you come to edit your piece? Obviously, obvious mistakes are... obvious. Spelling, grammar, syntax all need to be checked and made right if there are any errors.

The content also needs to be looked at. Does the story make sense all the way through, or are there enormous plot holes that need to be filled? I recently wrote a piece for the Sheppey group, and discovered (after I had given it over for peer editing - more on that later) that the ending was confusing as I had missed out a chunk of narrative. I knew the story in my head, and had forgotten that readers were coming to it fresh!

It may be a good idea to read the work aloud. The voice in your head is a forgiving one, which will happily gloss over missing words or clunky syntax. Speaking the words will alert you to where the mistakes are. It helps you to go through line by line.

Taking bits out of a piece of work you've slaved over can be hard. But, in editing one must be honest. Does the word or sentence or paragraph actually add anything to the piece? If not, be ruthless - it has to go. Your readers will thank you for that.

Once you've done your bit, it's worth asking someone else to look at the work. An outsider's view is often invaluable. As long as it's an honest one. And to get an honest point of view, the right peer editing must be chosen.

But who? Should it be your nearest and dearest? A critical friend? Online support group? A writing group that you already belong to?

It should be whoever is going to give you an honest response. That may well be your husband, wife, mother, father, sister, brother, best friend. Sometimes, however, as much as these people are interested, and are keen to help, because they are so close to you they may not be entirely honest. Not due to a strange mean streak, but because they love you and fear hurting your feelings.

If you want these people to be your editors, make sure that they know you want the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. Make sure they won't shy away from telling you what doesn't work. You need to know all this. And to help them, don't take it personally. Don't become defensive. Take what they say and thank them. Whether you agree or disagree is something you can keep to yourself!

And what if you are asked to be an editor for someone? Exciting! You now have the opportunity to help shape a piece of writing, to help create a wonderful story. Be sensitive, and be honest. Give criticisms, but also give praise where it is deserved. Offer opinions, alternative ideas, ask questions. Be specific if you can!

Just don't try to write it for them...

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