The benefits of editing later
All writing, be it a novel, a short story, a blog, or an email will need reviewing and editing before it is sent anywhere. Otherwise, you’re liable to come across careless or foolish. Editing is key to crafting, it might be rather dull and certainly not feel as creative as the actual drafting, but it is immeasurably important.
Editing gives our voices clarity and sharpness, it makes what we are trying to say actually make sense and lastly, it improves our content. I have found several times on an edit that what I was trying to say has become muddied in my brains rambling pathways and only with concise editing can I retrieve that tiny nugget of thought within the mess.
Think of editing as polishing an ornament or sharpening a knife, both the ornament and the knife exist on their own, but the polishing and sharpening improve them. After all, a blunt knife is both unimpressive and kind of useless and a dull lifeless ornament depreciates in value with every dust mote. It reminds me of a morning that I’d been dragged to a car boot sale by my granddad, it was cold, raining a bit and far, far too early on a Sunday morning. But I wandered the aisles and saw something, it was a pair of statues. It was immediately obvious they had gone many years without love, they were dull, filthy and battered. But I bought them, and I spent a lot of time washing, dusting and polishing them up and now they are beautiful and sit in my dining room. That is editing. Seeing the potential in something and scraping away the dirt and grime until it can shine again.
But when is the best time to edit?
Different people will tell you different answers to this question. Some will say its best to edit as you go, pause every paragraph and reread your words while they are fresh in your mind. Other’s will say edit right at the end when you’ve reached the conclusion. Lastly, some will say that editing is not needed but most of those people are trolls and those that are not are fools. It is commonly accepted that editing is needed and those who don’t edit but self-publish (chances are they wouldn’t get a publishing contract without editing) give self-published authors a bad name.
Today, I want to make a case for editing at the end of your draft.
“Know that even when you’re not putting words on paper/computer you’re writing. Living is writing. Everything we do feeds creativity, even in the most un-obvious ways. Don’t edit while writing first draft, just get it out. This is a rule I often struggle with because I know the quality I want, but I also know it’s important to write it from beginning to end and the editor mind doesn’t help that for me.”
Horror writer and poet Linda Addison
There’s a lot to be said for editing at the end of your draft. It gives you the benefit of getting all your thoughts and ideas down on the page before you start dissecting them. It allows you to get into the flow of writing without corrupting the momentum you’ve built up.
So, I say wait until you’ve finished your draft before you start hacking away at it.
But, there’s more to editing at the end than just finishing the manuscript. I would also advise giving yourself a good long break if you can. Get a bit of space between yourself and your writing before you go back and start editing. That extra bit of brain space will help you to be more focused and critical when you come to edit.
I do this in all aspects of my life where I can. If I write an email I try to let it sit in my drafts for a little while, the newsletters I write as part of my day job get left for at least a day if not more before I start viciously editing, short stories get left for a month and novels can be left sitting for up to six months. This really helps give me perspective when I edit, I come back to things with a completely fresh mind and usually different option about things. Scenes I think worked before now sound clunky and unimaginative, and elements that sounded terrible but that I just couldn’t, at the time, think of a way around are now not as bad as I recall. Giving the work that extra bit of space really helps me be more objective and less emotionally attached to my words.
Just to be clear I’m talking about developmentally editing your writing here. I think spell checkers etc should be run rigorously though out the process, both during and after the drafting. But I’m dyslexic so tend to be paranoid as all hell that I’ve misspelt every single word ever.
Paying for an editor.
Here I want to talk briefly about the benefit of fresh eyes that are not your own. These come in two flavours, the unqualified/inexperienced and the professional. Both types have value and should be used.
The unqualified/inexperienced are usually referred to as beta readers, these will be the kind of people you want to market your book to, so their opinions are important. They will likely give you less technical advice but that doesn’t diminish the value. I strongly recommend getting as many beta readers as you can, you can use a professional service if you’re happy to pay for this, or you can use friends and family, or you can use members of your audience, or a combination of all of them.
Remember, everyone has an opinion, thee will undoubtedly be a variety of comments and some of the things said you will disagree with, but if you notice that a lot of people are saying similar things then you really should listen despite your personal feelings about your book/story.
Professional editors are obviously different from beta readers, these will charge you for reading your work and chances are if you’ve written something of length it will not be cheap. So firstly, you want your book in its best shape before you send it to a professional editor in order to get the most benefit out of the read.
Professional editors will be far more technically minded than the beta readers, and they will offer various types of edit, from a developmental edit to a copy edit or a proofread, you will need to research these and decide which is best at that time. Chances are you will need more than one before publishing. It’s an investment in your work that is very much needed as they will give you invaluable advice on how your book may work in the industry. But again, remember these are people, not machines and what one editor says another may say something different. This means its critical to ensure you research your editor, make sure they work or have worked in your genre, make sure they have enough experience etc.
Overall, editing is critical but unfortunately, it is not foolproof, you can edit yourself, edit with proof-readers and edit with a professional editor on various occasions only to still find things you might want to change, editing is one of those jobs that could go on forever if you let it.
So, while it is critical it’s also critical to know when to stop.