Being as I’m neck deep in editing a novel, I thought a post about the editing process for novelists a good topic to address.
I like editing fiction.
There, I said it. I used to hate it, just like you.
I learned how.
We all think of editing as a part of writing and it is, in essence.
What Editing is Not
In another, more accurate sense, though, it’s also an entirely different task. It’s another profession. Just like writing, editing is an effort and a very difficult one.
Editing should be taken on as a separate task after one has something to edit. After the first draft is done, in other words. I’m sure you’ve heard the advice to avoid editing while you’re getting the story down. Follow this advice consistently.
It’s perfectly possible to enjoy a difficult task, provided one is skilled enough at it. The satisfaction of performing the task skillfully, being proud of the result, make the job pleasurable.
What makes a difficult task unpleasant is not knowing, at some or most points, what should be done, or not being sure of the results of one’s effort.
To the extent that we’re fumbling around, writing is not pleasant.
The same is true of editing.
What Editing Shares with Writing
At some point while learning to write, the disparate learning, bits of skill, and sage advice coalesce with our own native talent and suddenly, we know what to do when we write.
The task becomes no easier (in fact, it will become harder and harder), but the incentive: a story that one is proud to own, makes it pleasant in the way that a killer workout is pleasant in what it does for our health and appearance.
Not much can be said to help the prospective writer reach this level other than to write a lot and read a lot. The process is so dependent on the individual that there are few general rules of thumb.
What Makes Editing Different from Writing
Editing is another story. There are set rules for doing it that are almost universally applicable. Most of these rules center around the relative soundness of a story’s structure, from chapter order and content, all the way down to word choice.
Spelling is standardized. There are well-established rules of grammar and syntax.
Narrative itself has an agreed-upon structure:
- Describe setting
- Name characters present
- Present action (almost always in time order)
There are also mostly agreed upon rules for good writing that the editor needs to correct (or at least point out for the writer to fix).
Rules such as:
- Minimize the use of the passive voice.
- Minimize the use of modifiers (no more than two adjectives per noun; no adverbs at all, if possible).
- Place the subject and the verb as close together as possible in a sentence.
- The most important words in a sentence should be at the beginning or (less preferably) the end.
- Avoid cliché.
There are more. They can all be found in multiple places online. I found About Writing, by Samuel R. Delany to be especially time saving in getting a thorough ground in the fundamentals.