Weekly Writing Memo: 4 Methods for Easier EditingPosted: April 27, 2016
One of the hardest parts of writing is to go back and edit your own work. The problem is, you know what is supposed to be on the page, so often times your brain will fix what you see so you miss things. There are a lot of things you can do to help you edit your work, but there are four things that I find help the most.
Use a New Format
One of the simplest things you can do to make editing easier is to look at the work in a format that is different from how you write. So if you write in a word document, try looking at the work in a PDF. If you write on your computer, try printing out your writing so you can edit it by hand.
One of my favorite methods is to send the document to my Kindle and read it as if it is an eBook. Then I use the highlight function to indicate different types of notes—yellow for typos, blue for story issues, red for inconsistencies, etc. You can also do what a friend of mine does and change the font size of your writing when it’s time to edit, or even change the font itself.
Switching up the format you read your work in when editing can be a major help because it changes the writing from what you are used to seeing and helps create some distance. For me, putting it on my Kindle is a huge help because it makes it easier to tell myself it isn’t my writing and to force myself to look at it objectively. So try several methods until you find the one that works best for you to get into a critical, and objective, mindset.
One Step at a Time
A lot of writers tend to overwhelm themselves when editing by trying to focus on too much all at once. Whenever I go through, I focus on one specific element at a time. Am I look for story, or am I proofreading? The way you look at the story is different for the type of editing you are doing, so make sure to tell yourself up front what your goal is and stay focused on that.
This doesn’t mean you can’t find typos and such when editing for content, it just means that your focus should not be to try and catch everything. The more you try to catch everything in one pass, the more you’ll miss. You should be doing multiple passes anyway, so deciding on a specific type of editing for each pass will help you do a more thorough job, and keep your editing focused.
It’s incredibly easy when reading your work for editing to get involved in the story and start enjoying your writing. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your writing or your story, but the more you are focusing on the activity as being one for pleasure or enjoyment, the less critical you are being. So whenever you find yourself getting involved in the story and sitting back to enjoy it, take a break. Stop reading, stop revising, and walk away for a few minutes if needed.
Then, focus on what your goals are as far as editing, and go back at the work like an editor, not a reader. If you let yourself get sucked into your story, you’re going to stop seeing the mistakes and just focus on what you like. So always stay conscious of HOW you are reading, and force yourself to stay somewhat detached.
Editing is a much harder task than a lot of people think it is. It’s easy to go on autopilot and just start reading without being critical. To prevent this, set specific reading periods and break periods.
When reading a novel, I always stop at the end of every chapter and ask myself a few questions about what I read. Did the characters work? The plot? The setting? Is there anything I’m unclear about? Whatever notes I come up with I jot down, and then I refocus on my goals for editing and start the next chapter. Pausing between sections helps keep you focused, and gives you an opportunity to really think about what you’ve been reading. For something like a screenplay, I set my break times by page number. So every 10-15 pages I stop, let myself process what I’ve read, and then go back at it.
Just remember, the breaks aren’t just about taking time off from reading; they’re about keeping you in a critical mindset, they’re an opportunity to ask yourself questions and analyze what you’ve read so far, and they’re a chance for you to get a sense for the writing.
The biggest thing to remember about editing and revising is that it is a process, and a long one. So give yourself a chance to rest between readings, and make sure as you read that you aren’t growing tired with the task. And remember, while it may be a tedious task, the more serious you take it the better your work will be in the long run.