Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tell me why I don't like editing?

Why do I hate editing? Because if you edit properly it's hard work. Yesterday I benefited from an editing session with some other talented writers. So I decided to look at my editing checklist and revamp it.

If I asked a non creative writer what editing is I would expect them to come up with the following list:

sentence structure
subject/verb agreement
consistent verb tense
word usage

Of course I look out for spelling mistakes and common errors but recently I found an article by William Faulkner. He pointed out that we teach ourselves through our own mistakes. People learn only by error, he wrote. However, it's not always easy to spot errors at first. We're too close to our own writing. We love what we write, especially directly after we write it.

Most of the writers I know that never finish a piece of writing are those obsessed with the quest for perfection. But why worry about perfection in your first or second draft? No one else expects your first attempt to be perfect. Why not enjoy the free writing of trying to capture your idea on the page?

Now once I have that all important first draft then it's the time to refine the plot and structure.

After I have removed all the typos and repetition I try to get more focused. Stephen King wrote a great book on creative writing and described adverbs as dandelions, I liked the idea of them being weeds because once you start using them you can't stop. Do a search for "ly" and edit as many adverbs as possible. The strongest, most powerful writing uses few adverbs because adverbs assist weak verbs. These should be replaced with stronger, more accurate verbs.

Characters should not "begin to" do things. Have them take direct action. Similarly instead of having characters to decide to do things, they should just do it. No 'after Jake had left she decided to check his phone.'

Cliches are hard to spot sometimes because they are ingrained into our culture. When you do find them take them out.

Next is dialogue, I have my own special dialogue checklist:

short sentences
use contractions
forgo pleasantries
compress your dialogue
edit dialogue to its essentials
don't overuse names.

I always have to remember to create a new paragraph when dialogue changes from one character to another. You can add the character's thoughts and actions after their dialogue without beginning a new paragraph.

One of my bad habits are the use of intensifiers. These are the words placed before adjectives and adverbs in an attempt to intensify an effect. Words such as very, so, quite, extremely, really, and absolutely. We're very tired. Thank you so much. The book was extremely good, etc. Removing them tends to improves sentences. Unfortunately I use them a lot in my speech so they overflow into my writing.

One of my pet hates in other peoples writing is 'it'. Be specific and name the "it" wherever possible.

Too many passive verbs slow down and weaken a narrative with wordiness—tighten and strengthen your sentences by naming who did what.

My passive verb checklist:

There are lots of other things that you need to look for. This list has been developed by listening to the criticism that I have received from others which I have then taken on board.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post. I hate editing too, although I am getting better at it and therefore enjoying it more. I like that you focus on improving the text rather than overhauling the whole work. I always feel I'm not editing properly because I'm actually happy with the structure and character development etc. Probably in two years I'll be brave enough to work on those things too!