How I Quit Being a Crybaby and Learned to LOVE Editing

100_0486Al Lamanda: Okay, maybe not love editing, but at the very least develop a healthy respect for it. After all, who doesn’t want to see their work made as perfect as possible before unveiling it to the masses. Or an agent. Or a publisher. Or in my case, my harshest critic, my spouse.

Years ago, I learned a valuable lesson when a manuscript I sent to an agent was mailed back to me (yes, we actually did go to the Post Office in those days) with just three words handwritten on a post-it-note. EDIT. EDIT.EDIT.

My initial response was (Stop me if you’ve heard this one before) anger. How could someone care more about a few typos than the content of the words? How could someone care more about a few misplaced commas and misspelled words than the story, plot and characters? The words are what matter and not a misplaced comma, apostrophe, (apostrophe never looks spelled correctly by the way) or typo. After a few more (okay, a lot more) post-it-notes from agents, the message began to sink in. No one is going to read your work if the work you’re submitting is an unedited mess. Why should an agent or publisher care about your work if you don’t care enough to send them a polished draft?

My lovely spouse suggested I get someone else besides our cat to check over my work, or learn some editing tips so my work is a bit more polished when I submit it. I took the advice to heart and instructed my cat to do better. No, not really. What I did do was scour the earth for anything I could find on editing. And by scour I mean, use of the internet for articles, advice, recommendations and then a good old fashioned trip to the library and my local bookstore. After much reading, research and trial and error I learned that editing seems to always come down to four basic steps. Most writers do these four steps or some of them without being aware of them. It just seems to make sense to polish your work as much as possible before sending it out to someone who might reply with a post-it-note.

So, this is what I do, and you probably do one or all of the same. (Swear words are optional.)

Step One. When I sit down to write, before I write one new word, I read what I wrote the day before. I revise, edit and make changes before writing anything new. This will become the first draft of your book. (The post-it-note draft)

Step Two. When your first draft is complete, go back to word one on your computer and revise and edit the entire manuscript. This becomes the second draft.

Step Three. The hand edit. Print a copy of the second draft. Beginning with the first word to the last, you read and make notes in margins and on pages of mistakes, changes, deletions and additions. Then, using your hand edit notes, go back into your computer and make the changes. This is now your third draft.

Step Four. Print a hard copy of the third draft. Now read it. I read out loud. (My cat is a good listener) It may take me several days to do this, but it’s worth it. I make notes on phrases and sentences that sound hollow or false, where something causes me to stumble or doesn’t make sense. (If something doesn’t make sense to me, imagine how the reader feels) I make notes and changes right on the pages. When I am done, I go back to my computer and update the third draft with these changes. (This is usually the swear words part of the process) I am now pretty sick on my own book, but the fourth draft is polished and ready to be seen by agents and publishers. When an agent or publisher requests my manuscript by email, I am fully confident that if it is rejected it won’t be on a post-it-note.

Is this process a tedious pain in the butt? Yes, it is. Is it worth it in the long run? Yes, it is. Because after four edits, your book will be ready.

On the other hand, I could just let you borrow my cat. She works for treats.


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1 Response to How I Quit Being a Crybaby and Learned to LOVE Editing

  1. John Clark says:

    Dead on Al. I find that steps 1 and 4 are the ones that help me the most.

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