Tag Archives: Editing

Editing tips

Good, better, best

Writing a story is not the defining aspect of what makes ‘a writer’. When you type those words ‘the end’ it is really just the beginning for that story. The first draft is just that, the first of (often) many drafts. Every scene, every sentence, every word then goes under the magnifying glass. “Does it contribute to the story, is it clear what is going on, is there a more eloquent way to say that?”

The editing process can take as much or as little time as you let it. No writer will ever read a piece without spotting a little typo, or turn of phrase that they would tweak if it was on their computer screen.

So when do you know when you are done?

Generally you have a gut instinct about when your story goes from being ‘okay’ to being ‘good’. As for when it is great, well that will depend entirely on your mood. Great is not so easy to spot. This leaves the writer with the question; when should the editing stop?

We all want to put our best work out there, but given that we will always change a story when we re-read it, it follows that we can never actually attain ‘our best’ work. It is a moving target with no solid definition.  

For me, when I feel like my edits stop growing the story and I am getting caught up in semantics, I know it is time to set the story free. Is that a good yardstick? I really don’t know. I would love to know how others know when they have got their piece to be ‘the best it can be’ and (more importantly) when they know that it is still not quite there.


Finding new words

I’ve had a lot of time to write in recent months, but I’ve mainly spent the time editing – something I usually put off as much as possible. Recently though, I’ve had three deadlines which all required new words. Amazingly enough I made all three!

The thing that strikes me is that often I have wanted to write new words, but when I looked at the screen nothing would come. So I turned back to the editing, something for which I had hard deadlines which also counted as writing. What changed between then and now to see the new words flow; it was having externally set deadlines.

One of my favourite short stories was a competition entry (which didn’t win) that I started writing at 8:30PM on the night it was due. I entered the story at 11:45PM –apparently it was the last submission before entries closed. Yes it could have (and has since) benefitted from a solid edit and a 24 hour rest, but without that external deadline it would never have been written.

This led me to ask the question of why I respect my self-set editing deadlines but not the new word ones. Finally it came to me; I had committed to friends and family about when they would be able to buy my novel on line, so lots of people knew that deadline. My new words had no such external commitment, they were just numbers in a spreadsheet.

Lucky for me my writers group is about to start a new WriMoFoFo (write more for four) and while we run it anonymously, I’m going to use it as a way to make myself more externally accountable. I will publish my targets and my actual achieved figures each Sunday.

Please feel free to join me, it starts on June 11th –so you still have plenty of time to plan what you want to tackle. For more info about WriMoFoFo see my last WriMoFoFo post. Let me know how you are tracking, even just in vague non-numerical terms. Maybe we can all get a few new words written!


Can you get a good story from rancid meat?

I was making a curry tonight for dinner and I thought about something I had been told regarding curries. Supposedly they were invented to cover the flavour of rancid meat back when refrigeration was not possible and meat often went off. You would just cut the green bits off the steak, whack in a few herbs and spices, flick out the flies and then you had a delicious curry (I should point out this is not a re-enactment of how I made tonight’s curry, I’m talking historical curries here).

Sometimes as writers we can pen a rancid story. There are bits that stink and other parts are so putrid that they fall apart. Yet underneath the slimy green stuff, there can be something that looks like a real story.

The cooking process to get that little bit of red-grey meat spiced up and turned into something delectable is called EDITING. The tricky part is in being able to recognise when there are just off bits that can be cut away, and when the whole thing is rotten.

So back to my analogy; if you wanted to know if you curry was made with meat that really was beyond saving, you could just feed it to someone. If they got sick you had all bad meat, if they smile at you while rubbing their belly in a non-pained way, it was good meat. With your writing it is exactly the same; feed it to someone. Give it to someone you trust to give honest feedback, preferably a writer or avid reader, so if any bits do make them feel a bit green around the gills, they can tell you and you can cut them out.

Just because your story pongs enough to bring the magpies swooping in from three blocks away doesn’t mean it is a bad story, it might just have bad bits. One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make (besides holding onto a story that should be let go) is chucking one out before it has been given a chance.

Anyway, no one has been sick yet, so at least I can rest assure that tonight the meat was all good.



Look at me
In my previous household it was not uncommon to email or electronically message others in the home to ask if they wanted a cup of tea. We sat side by side on the lounge, tapping away on our computers, and only spoke to each other when we wanted to share a funny video or crazy conspiracy theory we had stumbled across. That was back in the time of wireless internet.

Now, not only am I limited to cable-delivered internet, but the only computer it is hooked into is a geriatric machine that lives out in the family room –which also contains the TV. Had I wanted to get online for most of the previous week I would have had to share my time with the Australian cricket team (and all my father’s passionate suggestions about how they could improve their game).

Like many of those with a technology diet imposed upon them, I was surprised by how improved my day was by the lack of internet. Don’t get me wrong, my social life has suffered, and I got so sick of FreeCell that I don’t think I will be able to play again for a while, but my writing has been the real winner. I’ve edited nearly 23,000 words of my novel since this time last week! That would have to be a record for me.

Perhaps now I should admit that I have insisted on an upgrade. So the wireless modem will arrive soon and I’ll be back to tweeting, blog reading, emailing and all the other things that take precious moments each day. But maybe the real lesson I need to take from this is to force a few internet free days upon myself. I owe it to my writing to do it; my time off work is too quickly drawing to a close and I still have so much to do.

Anyway, I’ve got to go, you don’t want to know what Mum and Dad are watching on TV now…


The tin rule of ing-ism

Previously I’ve written about some of the ‘golden’ rules of writing. These are the ones that you should never break. There are also some ‘silver’ rules of writing, which can be broken, but best not to. Then we get to the ‘tin’ rules –those that can be broken, but only when you know when the rule should be applied, and then make the choice not to. Don’t underestimate tin, it has value, there is a reason why they recycle it and it is not just to avoid landfill!

Ing-ism is a tin rule.

Many new writers (me included) have a habit of using an excess of ing words, particularly in descriptive prose. As children it was encouraged, but as adults we need to exorcise ourselves of it (to an extent). Take these examples;

 “… an old shutter dangling at a precarious angle…”
“Reaching in, Lee flicked out…”
Or the double-barrelled “…crouching in the doorway, he started smiling.”

In and of themselves they are not so bad, but if they are stacked one on top of the other they can read terribly! Let’s look at their ing-free versions:

 “.. an old shutter dangled at a precarious angle…”
“Lee reached in and flicked out…”
“…crouched in the doorway, he smiled.”

You can see that the ing-free sentences are much tighter and easier to read. This is particularly useful if you are trying to write fast-paced prose or build tension. Ing words soften the writing and will subtly undermine your pacing and sometimes the tone.

Obviously ing is not a sin, some ing words will need to stay (I have a couple in the paragraph above), but I can almost guarantee you that not all the ing words in your most recent ‘first draft’ need to be there. Go back and see how many you can swap for their ing-free versions.

 As I said, it is a ‘tin’ rule, you can ignore it, but make sure that you are consciously ignoring it and not just being lazy with your editing. Give it a try next time you edit, you’ll be amazed at the difference it can make to your work.

Happy writing,


The cutlery of writing

In my house we have no dishwasher, or conversely you could say we have two dishwashers, and we both pay rent. When we have used up every cup and plate in the house and can go no longer without washing, it is the cutlery that is the most heartbreakingly tedious part of the task.

Self-editing is the cutlery of writing.

Many writers hate to edit their work, especially longer pieces of writing, and a lot of new writers are tempted to skip it altogether. That is a great decision to make if you are a) a genius, or b) trying to increase your collection of rejection letters. For the rest of us it is not a good tactic.

Aside from the typos and homonyms that you will leave behind, there will be superfluous words, repeated words, tense changes, point of view slips or even character name cock-ups (yes guilty, I had Brent and Brant in a story and they were actually the same person). The only way to find all these problems is to edit your work, edit it again, put it down, let it rest, mature, ferment and then… edit again.

Many writers set time limits on how long they need to wait after finishing a piece before they can send it out to ensure they have distanced themselves enough to give it a proper edit. Others actually set numbers of edits required (7 I’ve read for a lot of novel writers). When starting out you don’t need to be that regimented, but more than one edit is a must, and at least 24 hours of sitting time is also mandatory! But more on both accounts will only improve your final product.

Don’t sell yourself short, it takes a lot to finish a story, so don’t undermine all that hard work by putting it out there before it is ready. You can burn the perfect market or worse, you can have your substandard work published! It is much better to have a clean manuscript that is ready to send out a few weeks later, than a flawed one that is ready to go now!

Happy editing (and give thanks for your dishwasher),