The art of editing – What is editing? – 2 of 7

When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest. – Stephen King

So you’ve put in the work and now you sit with your fledgling novel wondering what to do next.  After all the difficult part is over and now you can move on to making money and getting good reviews, right?  And I guess, statistically, for some author, somewhere this must even prove to be true. The rest of us though are faced with a more difficult truth. Now a different kind of real work starts. Probably a more difficult stage than the original writing, sadly. The truth is that now you start editing and revising. But, what is editing?

Looking in the dictionary we get a pretty short definition: Prepare (written material) for publication by correcting, condensing or otherwise modifying it. I’ve also seen it described as: A stage of the writing process in which a writer or editor strives to improve a draft.

Note that there’s a significant difference between editing and proofreading – which is the process of correcting grammatical, spelling and typographical errors. Your future readers will thank you if there are no spelling mistakes in your final published version, but they are likely to be much more concerned with gaping plot holes. A proofreader might notice and comment on those holes, but it’s not what you are paying them for and you can’t and shouldn’t expect them to do it.

In an earlier post (Revising) I described how I’d seen the step from first finished draft to editing compared to the process of building a house. The first draft laying foundations and giving structure, making choices from the vast array of options open to you, while editing involves taking a step back and looking for all of those areas that don’t quite work or that could simply be better now that you know how the entire journey of your book worked out.

Sounds simple enough but, trust me, it’s going to be difficult. If you follow any authors on twitter, just watch out for the tweets they post when it comes to this stage. See how often they admit to avoiding starting on it. Note also that they all, without exception, do edit.

Another good exercise is to google author quotes about editing and editors – it’s eye-opening! But, what is the problem?

Writing is from the heart, while editing needs to be from the head. To edit your work you need to be able to look at it coldly and objectively and tear it down and apart before putting it back together in a new and improved form. As Stephen King puts it, it’s about killing your darlings. This will hurt and is why many authors recommend that you leave a period of time between finishing drafting and starting to edit.

Good editing requires some distance. But, at the end of the day, it should also be what takes a great idea and makes it a saleable book.

Next week, I’ll be talking about how you edit your own work as far as you can. Outlining a three-stage process that will cover all of the essentials and help you to structure your approach.

To your book’s success!

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