The Secret to an Efficient First Edit



Editing ad infinitum - How Do You Survive?

Congratulations! You’ve just completed your novel, thesis or other long and demanding writing effort. Now it is the time to make sure the finished work will shine. Every advice in the blogosphere tells you that this is the most important part of the process of writing. And they are quite right. You should invest your time into editing properly.

However, in the quest for perfection, it might happen that you’ll never reach the level that suffices your inner critique. Reading your text again and again, you start to wonder whether you should reorder you chapters, rewrite the entire text to a different point of view, kill a character here and there…

It is easy to prolong editing into infinity. And we all know what the result of that is, don’t we? Yes, another manuscript in the drawer (or in that bulging folder on your PC titled “My Novel”).

So how do you survive the first edit?

Four Secrets of an Efficient First Edit

Make yourself a plan. You did one for writing the manuscript, didn’t you? Without a clear roadmap it’s so easy to end up rambling in the woods.

First edit is the beginning. You can and will return to the text after it, so now you can be fast and furious.

The best would be to arrange a beta reader to read the manuscript right after the first edit. Then you would get an outsider opinion when you’ve fixed the worst errors, but before you’ve spent days and days on polishing something that might end up in the bin anyway.

So, let’s plan for the first edit:

  1. Decide your goals. You can’t tackle everything, so pick the most important editing goals. At this point we are talking about substantive or developmental editing. What needs fundamental editing? The flow? The plot? The POV?
  2. Determine the time needed. How much time do you need to reach the goals you set for yourself? Be realistic and cut off goals if necessary. Then allocate each editing point the time you think it deserves.
  3. Carry out the job. Edit, edit and edit – but no more than you gave yourself time.
  4. Never look back. This was the first edit. Now you’ve tackled the most pressing issues of your manuscript. It’s time for the second opinion – get your beta reader ready and send the manuscript in for comments.



Editing for Writers


Editing in a nutshell

Nutshells are for cracking, so let’s crunch! Editing is something you either love or hate. I like it so much I’ve made it my job…  Even if you’re not as enthusiastic as I am, it’s one of the most important phases in creating a text. There’s really no going around it – you can’t opt out of editing.

Editing is the afterthought you give to your text to bring it to its best. It is also an opportunity to find the embarrassing, but oh-so-human errors we all make. That way you’ll ensure they won’t find their way to the published work.

Editing - What does it really mean?

As a writer and editor I do a lot of editing. When I talk about it with clients, I notice it’s not at all self-evident we’re always talking about the same thing. There seems to be a bit of inconsistency concerning the concept itself and what it involves. There is also a plethora of terms used in this connection – we all have our own names for the different parts of the process.

What is often missed is the fact that all editing is not the same. There are different stages in editing that treat the text at different depths.

3 Stages of Editing

When a writer edits her own text the different stages of editing are not always strictly separate. Have you ever rewritten an entire chapter after having moved on to spell checking phase because the winning idea stroke you in the wee hours of the night? I hear you…

However, if you hire someone else to do the editing, it is important to know what you want to achieve with it and which kind of editing will do the job. So, let’s tackle the jungle of editing:

Developmental / Substantial/ Structural Editing or Rewriting is the most invasive form of editing. At this stage I work on the structure of the writing; rearrange and rewrite paragraphs, even cut off large junks of text. On a novel I would now check the plot arc and ensure the uninterrupted flow of the text. On an article I could change the angle or bring up a new main topic from the text.

Copyediting is the next stage and the one we usually refer to when talking about editing. At this stage I check the grammar and style, polish the text to be at its best, but don’t do any major changes to it. I can change wording, cut off excess wordiness, check the consistency of the point of view(s), fix all factual errors and unintended omissions and generally make the text presentable.

Proofreading is the final and most superficial form of editing. Now I check that all the necessary changes from the previous editing rounds have been made and the text is as it should be when it’s being published. I fix the final forgotten punctuation marks and see that the formatting is in order. After this stage the text is ready to go to publishing.