Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Perfect Editing Strategy

By Brian Kaufman

Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.

Patricia Fuller

Writers have ticks. Those little muscle memory problems our brain slips into our drafts without us noticing. We may share similar habits or those habits can be wildly disparate.

Editing is a difficult but crucial skill. Reportedly, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Louis L'Amour never edited. They are fine authors but sometimes writing is a craft, not magic. In a perfect world, we are channeling both.

Editing isn't sexy.

Beta readers are great for first round reads. 

Beta readers are useful for that general impression read. They can spot plot holes. They dissect character development. Ideally, they are objective and from diverse backgrounds to provide the most useful feedback.

Asking the same folks to give you a deep reading on a revised passage often yields little more than a thumbs up or down.

Writing is fun. Editing is a chore.

One is pure creation, the equivalent of improvising a guitar solo. The other is…hard work.

Writers develop myopia. 

After dozens of rewrites on a particular passage, you can no longer “see” what’s wrong (assuming anything is wrong in the first place).

Writers are entertainers.

Though most of us prefer to live and work with quietude. Having published a book or story, you are asked to do a reading. What passage do you choose for maximum impact?

There’s never enough time to write or edit properly.

Many actors never watch their own movies. We are our worst critics. No matter what those outlier reviews may say. We will always see places in our work to improve.

I write and edit textbooks for a living. Because the time available never matches the backlog of projects, I had to figure out efficient editing in a hurry. Unfortunately, people’s eyes are tricksters. 

Rereading reveals rubbish and redundancy. 

~ Duane Alan Hahn

The brain processes data so quickly that tiny flaws are smoothed over, a process that Carla Foote calls a superior form of “autocorrect.” Your writer’s groups can give you a fresh set of eye . . . once. We can do a large portion of the heavy lifting without eating up huge chunks of our time.

The answer is to read your work out loud. Every single word. 

Rather than editing visually, you’ll do so auditorily. The process is completely different, allowing you to encounter your work for the first time . . . again.

Grammar is easier to manage when you hear a sentence out loud. A change of tense, the lack of punctuation, or a run-on sentence that begs for a pause all become clear during oral reading.

Repeated words make themselves obvious. If a sentence has inadvertent rhymes or sounds too choppy, you’ll hear it. If a paragraph needs a transition sentence, you’ll know.

Kate Kiefer Lee notes that dialog edited out loud ends up sounding more “human.” Stilted, robotic phrases sound silly when delivered orally. Voice out of character sounds wrong.

Audio books are becoming popular. Editing out loud helps ready a book for that medium.

Let’s assume that you buy my argument. 

Edit out loud in private. 

Read from a printed copy. It's easier to stop and make notes.

Ignore every reading teacher you may have had. Run your finger under the words as you read. It will keep you from skipping over anything.

Public speaking has two components—the delivery (have you written your prose so the piece can be read without tripping?) and the reception (can the listener absorb your prose?). The goal is understanding. 

If you just can't do it. Technology can help. Text-to-speech applications can read your work 
to you.

Adding an oral edit to your process will help your prose will sound good. 

After all, your story is music. Make it sound beautiful.

1 comment:

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks for the reminders, Brian. I'm sending my manuscript off to my beta readers tomorrow, then will start the fine-tuning process. I do my reading aloud twice, once from the computer monitor before the first readers see it, and a second time from a printed copy when I think I'm almost finished editing. I always find one more thing...

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