My Editing Philosophy
I spend up to 16 hours per week self-editing. At the beginning of my writing adventure, I didn’t have much structure. I read and made corrections where I saw fit. Overall, I enjoyed this activity. It feels like reading a familiar story and casually making it better. I now understand that while this type of editing improves the story, it leads to unintended issues.
The problems occur when I edit without a particular plan and forget about the big picture. I define the big picture as a book that readers would like to read. More specifically, I do not want to upset the readers with bad writing. Self-editing can result in meandering junk unrelated to the core of the story. My favorite damage invoking activity involves taking a deep dive into thoroughly explaining the characters motives, logic and brilliance. While this is occasionally necessary and insightful, it disrupts the flow resulting in a confused/uninspired reader.
To make matters worse, I discovered a strange self-editing/writing habit. After I create a sentence, I explain the same topic in the next sentence. “Bob walked to the door, opened it and looked inside. After opening the door, he continued walking.” I have no idea why I repeat myself. I suspect that I subconsciously really want the reader to thoroughly understand the topic. Perhaps my engineering mind likes to play.
After a lot of wasted time self-editing the wrong way, I have cobbled together a self-editing procedure and I thought it would be interesting to share. It begins during my initial writing. After I get a few pages written, I go back and casually edit/read them before writing new story. I identify areas were the plot isn’t clear and I shore it up with facts and insight. I also delete junk that isn’t necessary and move sections around.
When the book is finished, I do a full basic pass. I have several specific issues that I seek out. This included my famous double sentences, logic errors and unclear concepts. I also check facts and think about the flow. “Bob died in the horrific car crash.” Later in the book, “Bob and James shared a cup of coffee.” Wait a minute. I thought Bob died? What’s going on? Readers and critics hate that kind of basic mistake.
I often find instances where I used the wrong name for a character or referred to a section of the book where I have removed/changed some fact. The worst writing mistake I found so far is a duplicated sentence that probably resulted from a copy/paste error.
When I have completed my first pass, I start the program Pro Writing Aid. This is an intelligent document checking Microsoft Word add-in with many features. I start by checking for overused words. Gahhh. I hate this part of the editing process. It points out tight concentrations of words [for example, having three sentences in a paragraph beginning with “In general the…”] and other words that should be limited in their use. It’s favorite word to cheerfully locate is “was.” Each one of these feels like a bee sting and it takes a lot of creative effort to rearrange all the sentences. However, the resulting sentences are stronger and it flows better. Overall, this is the longest part of the self-editing process. I also noticed something else. Overused words are concentrated around weak sentences. There must be some sort of subconscious element at work.
Next, I make a full pass using the style improvement program in Pro Writing Aid. This generally goes quickly as it suggests better ways of phrasing sentences and eliminating certain words. The result is a document that reads cleaner and sounds professional.
Then I do a Pro Writing Aid Grammar check. This finds lots of errors and it a bit slower than the style improvement program. Unfortunately, it makes me feel like a grammar bonehead. Fortunately, by this stage of editing, many of the grammar issues have been uncovered.
My final check is to use the free version of the Grammar check add-in, Grammarly. The problem with this program is that it takes about ten minutes to get started. Once inside the document, it highlights several good grammar issues. Its best feature is to locate words that sound the same, but are spelled differently (homonyms, homophones, homographs and heteronyms. Oh my.)
However, there are problems with Grammarly and Pro Writing Aid. The first one is that they disagree with each other and overall end up loading my document up the commas. The second problem occurs when I disagree with their edits. The resulting sentences don’t read well. This forces me to make a choice. Do I go with the advice from a professional program written by language experts? Or does grammar bonehead Bill take the leap? 95% of the time, I go with the professionals. So my writing ends up with lots of commas.
After I have made my final checks, I give my work to my beta reader, my mom. She takes a much higher approach. “This area does not make sense.” “What was Bob’s motivation to go home?” “This area is weak.” “Consider deleting.” “Expand.” I greatly appreciate her input and I put in a lot of effort to fulfil her suggestions. I then enter a new round of self-editing including Pro Writing Aid and Grammarly. Typically, this goes a lot faster.
One final pass and I send my book to a professional editor. I now understand that I need to accept all their suggestions and limit my corrections. Then a copy editor finds nit-picky little things and the book goes onto Amazon.
Wow, that is a long ordeal. It took a lot of wasted time to figure out this process. Self-editing is a must for an author. Or am I a perfectionist who loves to self-edit? Something to think about…
You’re the best -Bill
June 12 2019
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