Apart from the terrible grammar, that is excellent advice. In fact, except for sitting down and writing the first draft, editing is by far the most important thing a writer can do. I know that, you know that. We’ve all heard it many times. But, really, as a writer, having written for many, many years, I am continually amazed by how a good draft truly can be transformed from good to freakin’ amazing, just with editing.
Since the advice is conventional wisdom, why am I mentioning it here? The writing world has transformed in the last decade or so. Mostly by the lovely creation of free and easy self-publishing. But that freedom and ease can cause undue haste. Write something, publish it. Move on to the next project. And the next, and the next after that. The entire instantaneous internet culture only feeds that hit and run mentality. But please, take a deep breath, ease on back. When it comes to editing, take your time. And some more time. And some time after that. Make your creation the very best it possibly can be, before sending it off into the world for all to read.
I’ve gotten some great editing advice from my good friend Amy, who has published quite a few books in the traditional publishing world. And I’ve developed some of my own throughout the years. None of this advice is groundbreaking. Countless writers have discovered it all long before us. But I’ll mention a few points here, more as reminders to myself than anything else.
– After completing a story (or non-fiction piece), put it away for at least a few weeks. Don’t look at it. Get some distance. Let the immediacy of it recede from your mind. When you pick it up again, you will see it through fresher eyes. Edit it until you can’t edit any more. Then repeat this entire process quite a few times.
– If you find yourself skimming over a paragraph, get rid of it. Your reader will skip over it altogether.
– If you yourself must read a sentence more than once to understand it, alter or get rid of it. That sentence will only confuse and/or annoy your reader. This advice goes for longer sections, as well. Anything that causes a reader to pause and reread yanks him up out of the story, out of your story world, out of the realm that you spent so much time and effort creating.
– Even if a sentence is beautiful, the most perfect you’ve ever written, if it interrupts the flow of your story, get rid of it. This advice is extremely difficult to follow. I’m editing my next book, Brilliant Disguise, right now, and I’ve had to eliminate some beautiful sentences that I adored. I nearly shed a tear. Sigh. But the story flowed better without them, so delete them I did.
– If you have an instinct to eliminate something, do so. Immediately. Even if you aren’t sure why, even if your rational mind tries to convince you otherwise, eliminate. That instinct will never lead you astray.
– Tighten all dialogue. Eliminate any that doesn’t illuminate and strengthen your story. It is amazing how well both story and character development can be conveyed in short exchanges. Far better, in fact, than in lengthy conversations. There is great beauty, elegance, and impact in a few well-chosen lines.
– Less is more. ‘Nuff said. Edit and eliminate and tighten. Get rid of the superfluous, get rid of the confusing, distill your story down to its true golden essence.
Happy editing to you all!