Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Editing Tips to the Rescue

Editing for me is the toughest part of writing. I  hate to do the edits for several reasons. One of them is because I  detest deleting  words from my MS.  I feel like crying  when my editor deletes paragraphs. I am fine with few words here and there. More often than not after my edits the word count goes into an overdrive.

The last time I edited a story I ended up adding a side character and increasing the length of the story by  four hundred words. Needless to say my editor was tearing her hair out and asked for the older version which she would carry in the newspaper with just one illustration.

But with time, extensive reading and research and courtesy the only workshop I attended, I realized that  editing is responsible for a polished manuscript. From a foe, editing has now become my friend. I started the edits for my current WIP with  mixed feelings. Would the word count go up or down?  The first lot of words to go were  what  William Faulkner calls ‘writer’s darlings’ or the  common modifiers I  generously sprinkle my manuscript with. I have a penchant for words  like ‘ very, extremely, really, seriously, absolutely.’ Faulkner’s advice to writers is  “to kill their darlings.” This  decreased  the word count substantially. Strunk and White in "The Elements of Style" refer to them as  “The leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words." I  eliminated  only the  modifiers that  I felt weighed down my writing.

After that I heeded Mark Twain’s advice : “When you catch an adjective, kill it.  No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them, then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.” Many adjectives were  sent packing at Mark Twain's advice, as were the silly and juvenile similies I had dumped during the initial drafts.

As I reread my manuscript, I realized  there were many repetitions that had no business being there. I had no qualms deleting these. As the manuscript is written over a period of time we often forget what  we have said earlier, hence the repetitions. The parts where I felt I was suffocating my reader with too much back story have been kept to a minimum. This was difficult as giving back story is a personal favourite.  
As the word count decreased and the writing became a little crisper and tighter, my smile widened. For the first time in my life after my edits, words  fell  like leaves in autumn.

The paragraphs where I was telling rather than showing  will take  the longest time.  I consider it a hangover of my school days where we had to write long essays. While writing longer stories I tend to  fall into the tell and not show pattern. Though it’s something that we constantly hear it’s also the easiest thing to overlook.  I am currently tackling  these long passages that will  require a lot of rethinking  and effort.

Trying to edit the scenes with dialogues was  easy as I followed the advice that  dialogue should either build character or advance the action. The longer dialogues have given way to shorter ones, and the boring bits chopped. Then there are the grammatical and punctuation errors to remedy. I  am leaving the sentence structure modification for the last.

Do you think I am going about my edits the right way? Is there something I have overlooked, something that can further improve my WIP?  How do you all handle your edits? Do you have any editing secrets that you would like to share?


  1. What a wonderful and informative post! Very useful tips. I will bookmark it for my personal reference. Have a nice week!

  2. Sounds like you're handling your edits wonderfully! It sounds like a line-edit, where you're combing through the mansucript more carefully. For me, the hardest kind of edit is the big-picture edit, the substantive one, where we have more major rewriting to do. I'm awaiting word from my publishing house on what my rewrites will be on my second novel. And those are the kind that bring me a lot of tears and pain! :-)

  3. You are doing a great job! I just went through mine and got rid of cliches too and where I named emotions--ie --guilt tapped her shoulder and also words like excitement--her eyes widened in excitement. Stuff like that. It does help make our stories bette!

  4. I think of it as two different processes. The first is Revising - where I move things around, cut stuff out, tweak characters, make plot changes, etc. The second is Editing - where I got through the manuscript looking for spelling and grammatical errors and any other problems that are technical.

    Also, I think that whenever you end up with less words than you had at the beginning it's a good thing because you've cut out anything that's unnecessary and would be a weakness to the piece of writing. This isn't always the case as you might discover that you have to add instead of cut (for clarity in the story) and that's a different scenario. It's all part of the process.


  5. Editing is so much harder than writing the first draft, for me. I thing you put it perfectly here! But it's all worth it, to see that buffed up beautiful prose that turns up after the cutting and snipping.

  6. Anonymous..I am glad that this post can help you.

    Jody..I am not just editing but also rewriting parts that I feel are just not working. The substantive edit is what I call rewrites, which is pretty tough to handle, I rewrote three entire chapters, and half of another one. And I have more than half the book to swim through.

    Terri, I too have this habit of adding cliches and similies in the first draft. Mischief danced in her eyes, a balloon of happiness swelled in her heart. All these are either chopped or spruced up.

    Jai...For me too its not one, but two different processes. But for several reasons, I am combining the revising, rewriting and editing processes as I wade through the manuscript. The editing process doesn't really end for me. Whenever I read my work, there are few changes I end up making.

    Lydia...this is the first time I am enjoying the cutting and snipping. But, I find it harder than writing the first draft.

  7. Fantastic Post, Rachna, I'll bet that manuscript sparkles now! All of your advice was good advice, and I can't think of any better way to go about revising and edition than the steps you spelled out.

  8. I think editing is the good medicine for our ailing first draft. It needs to be done just right so we can see it rise to its full potential. I'm almost done with my MS and I can't wait to get to some serious editing.

  9. Yes, great post, Rachna. It's strange too, even though it's hard to 'kill the darlings' there is potent sense of freedom once it's done.
    I find by reading aloud my ms I can hear when it's clunky! And you can also hear the bits that zing.

  10. I honestly never realized how hard it is to write...really, really hard...I keep coming across posts like this and I can't begin to explain how helpful this is.:) I have no tips of my own but I'm thankful for yours.

  11. Psssst. Don't tell anyone I shared my perversity with you, but I actually LIKE editing. The thought of improving narrative flow, fixing factual inconsistencies, strengthening characters and sharpening themes appeals to me; it's FUN!

  12. Elizabeth, though the manuscript is not yet sparkling, hoping to get there eventually.

    Anne, I am a late convert to editing. But, nowadays it doesn't stress me out at all.

    Sheryl, I too have been given the advice to read aloud my MS, so I can hear when it's chunky and clunky. But to be honest, I have never tried it.

    Alexis, writing is not for the faint- hearted. But, then nothing actually is. Whatever we do in life requires a lot of effort.

    Mohamed, you are one of the lucky few who find editing fun. Maybe I will take your help when I am editing my next book.

  13. Hi, Rachna. Maybe it's because I've been in the editing process for so long, but I enjoy it. I look forward to writing the next book with trepidation, in fact. I know, I'm weird. ;D

    That said, you sound like you're doing an awesome job.