Workshop: Setting Editing Goals


Vision 75



Setting Editing Goals


Lazette Gifford

Joyously Prolific Blog

Copyright © 2014, Lazette Gifford, All Rights Reserved


What does it take to become better at editing? Practice. Setting the goals themselves is not very difficult. However, if you have trouble connecting with editing, you need to get yourself into the right frame of mind, so let's start there.

What you need to consider

We usually talk about writing goals in terms of first drafts. However, setting a goal for the final edits can be helpful, especially for people who have trouble forcing themselves to do the edits. A finished first draft is useless until it has been edited to the best of your ability.

You may need to learn to edit well. Like writing, this is something that takes practice. Avoiding editing will not make it better. And you need not fear editing. You cannot ruin the story, as long as you are working on a new copy. Keep the original without edits so you can always retrieve something without having to un-edit.

There are some people who edit while they work. This can work for some, but it can also lead to problems. Editing and re-editing the earlier parts of the story can get to be tedious, especially when you realize that something written later in the story negates a good part of the hard work you've already done. You may even find yourself torn between deleting pages you worked very hard to get perfect or ignoring a change in story that will improve the overall tale.

Besides, even if you edit as you go, you still need to do a final edit. There is no excuse for rushing a story off (short of a contract deadline). Take your time. This isn't a race.

Should you hire someone to edit for you? If you have the money, you can. However, these editors are best employed to find the problems you cannot. They aren't a short cut so you don't have to learn proper grammar or spelling skills. They are not there to fix your missing plot threads. You need to learn to write well and to keep as much control over the story you want to tell as possible.

Beta Readers are a different matter. They should not be employed as editors (they'll get very tired of doing the hard work for you), but rather as people who read the final copy to see if there are plot problems, occasional typos and small mistakes. Some people send material off to Beta Readers a chapter at a time as they get it done, but be careful of this. Beta Readers can have a huge impact on what you write if they start directing the story for you by 'imagining' what is going to happen next. You can find yourself not wanting to disappoint them. At the very least, they can start you second-guessing the story you had intended to tell.

So this brings us to the work of editing. All authors have to learn to edit just as they need to learn to write a coherent story. Editing is not the dark side of the writing world; it is the art of refining and adding the finishing touches. A master woodworker wouldn't consider his job finished before he sanded and polished; why should you? And would he let a stranger take the job of sanding and risk him removing a little nub of wood without realizing the importance to the overall piece? Writers have an easier job of replacing that nub, but do you really want to have to do the extra work? At the very least, be certain that an editor marks every potential change for you to check. Make certain the editor does not have the final say (though in contracted work, you may have no choice).

Some of editing is about personal touches and style. In fact, the editors at publishing companies are working, at least in part, to enforce the house style of that company. This is usually in small things like certain ways punctuation is used (ellipses written as ... or . . . for instance), but sometimes the house style can collide with author style. For Indie Authors, this isn't a problem -- but they must know and understand the use of style better than someone who is going to hand the story over for final edits. Editing is not an option. Editing well is a trained talent. If you can write a story, you can learn to edit it.

There are four points to consider before you start editing:


How long is the work?


How many edit passes will you do?


How long do you have to get the work done?


How much do you hate editing?

(1) When editing, I'm going to suggest you work in page length, rather than word count. The first thing you need to do is make certain the book is formatted closely to the way it will be submitted. This means all the chapters in one file, page breaks at the end of chapters, at least 1.5 line spacing, and a paragraph indent. Set your font size to 12 in one of the recommended fonts -- Times New Roman, Courier New, or another print font. (If you are using Scrivener, see the notes below.)

With those settings you will now have a book that is, in general, the length it would be in a print version. Even if you are not working in print, this will still give you an idea of how the book will look on a Kindle or Nook screen, though the ability to change fonts and sizes on ebook readers makes that problematic.

However, now you have your work ready to edit.

(2) The second question deals with how you go about editing. Some people do everything in one push, checking everything from typos to plot holes as they go. Others break the editing up into several passes, focusing on one potential problem or another. This can add more time to the editing process, but it can also make certain you are looking for specific problems. It might be that the better you get at editing, the fewer passes you will need in the future. However you do the work, make certain you are focusing on everything that needs notice.

(3) Unless you have a contract or a specific goal, the amount of time you take to edit shouldn’t be a worry. I want to stress again that this is not a race. Artists do not rush their work and you are an artist working in words. Do your best to take the time you need.

(4) This is the tricky one. How much do you really hate editing? A significant number of you are going to be pounding your desks shouting 'We hates it! Nasty editing!' but the truth is that for some (if not all) it's more that you've been taught to hate it.

You've been told, in essence, that editing is not creative. That you are done with the fun part of writing and now you are going to have to read your work and make a judgment call on whether the lines work or not.

And if they don't, you get to change them.

That sounds creative to me.

Still, there are some people who will continue to hate this part of the work. You have to keep that in mind when you set your goals.

Setting the Goals

Having already formatted your work into a single file, you now know how many pages you have to work with. Let's say the novel is 500 pages long, which might be from 125,000 to maybe 150,000 words.

If you set a goal of 5 pages a day, you'll have this work done in 100 days. You do not need to edit on the weekends if you like to take them off. Editing five days a week at 5 pages a day will still get you there in good time.

Five pages is a good amount. It's not so long that you get bored with the work, but it's not so short that you never really get your head into the art of the work. 1 page a day will take you over a year; 2 pages a day will take you almost a year (using the 500 page model). Both will still get you to The End. The problem with a smaller number is that it's far easier to not get the feel for the story as you work. Editing isn't simply about fixing obvious spelling problems and grammar messes; it is also about watching for consistency in character speech and actions.

If you are also writing something new while you are editing, this can be a serious problem. You need to apply your writing brain to the editing process. This will take practice. It will take concentration. But it won't be hard.

The Scrivener Editing Section

Editing in Scrivener has both good and bad points. For writing, especially if you use an outline, this is a fantastic program. I love the ability to have the 'notecard' for the outline pulled up at the same time as the main writing section. You can also split the screen on the writing section so you can look at two parts at once. The ability to set up sections for characters, places and anything else that you might need to draw on for recurring situations is fantastic.

But Scrivener isn't laid out in pages. You can write in chapters, in sub-chapter scenes, or whatever type of break down you want, but in order to get the work into the page format that I suggest for editing, you need to compile and save, and then open in a program like Word™ or Open Office ™ and do the editing there.

If you choose to edit in Scrivener itself, look at how you have the material already laid out. If you are writing in scenes, figure out how many of them you already have and decide what makes a good number of them to do a day. Some scenes might be longer than others so you may adjust the number as you go.

Editing in Scrivener has one great advantage, and that is the part about having sections for characters, places, etc. While editing, you can put notes in those sections that are easy to access when you need them again. What color eyes does the bad guy's head minion have? Where exactly was that tattoo on the sidekick? What color was the trim on the house across the street? What the hell was the deputy's name!

You get the idea. You just note them in their own section and it's instantly available by clicking that link. If a character is wounded, make note of where so that later you don't have to go hunt up the spot where the scar should be. These can be important small touches that give continuity to the story.

*If you are not using Scrivener, you still need to keep track of these things. I use actual notecards that I keep on the desk. Be sure that they are carefully titled so you can easily sort through them for the information.

While you Work

First, put aside the finished first draft for a while. Work on something else and get the story out of your head. When you sit down to edit the work, it's important for you to see the story for what it is, and not for what you expect to find there. I usually let novels sit for months, and sometimes even years, while I work on other material.

If you have the time and the writing-energy, plan to work on a different project while you edit. Because editing does not take the same part of the writing brain, some people find it helpful to work on a new project that uses the 'oh shiny' part of creativity. You can even use this as a carrot: If you get your editing done, you get to write on the new story.

When you are ready, first make a new copy of the file. Name it appropriately. These days there is no reason not to give something a title like ReflectionsEditMarch2014. This gives you all the information you need at a glance. Keep the title at the start so if you have to do a search, you'll easily see which story the file deals with, even if you move it to another folder later. Remember the sad truth that computers die and files get shuffled off into odd spaces.

You know to edit for grammar problems, misspelled words and plot holes. There are a few things to carefully track as well. Note injuries, eye colors and which way a building faces as the sun comes up.

If you realize you change a character name, do a universal find/replace for all versions of the wrong name. This is where having a single file instead of individual chapters is very important. If you change the name of a street in the first chapter, and don't use that name again for several hundred pages, chances are you are going to have forgotten you changed it. Someone will catch these problems later and they aren't always pleasant about it. Do your best to make certain you take care of these discrepancies. Chances are that you will still miss something along the way. You can try for perfection, but don't let the fear of not finding everything keep you forever tied to the editing phase.

Read carefully.

This is not the time to skim through the lines. Now is when you take serious account of every paragraph. I don't believe in the word-by-word approach to editing a story because you need to understand the flow of the story, not the importance of a single word. There will be words you will change for better words. However, those words need to be read in context with the rest of the work, not as a stand-alone gem that glows so brightly it actually distracts from the rest of the writing. This is about the story. Make certain that whatever you add or change, works to promote the tale you want to tell, and not to point out how smart the author is. This isn't about you.

Okay? So work your way through your two, five or ten pages a day. You might start at a low number and realize you can do more. If you start too high and it's more annoying than helpful, drop down to fewer pages. Find the right level for you. Work however many days a week you intend to -- but stick to that agenda. Do so for an entire book. You might get tired of editing at some spot, but if you stop, you'll find it harder to get going again. However, once you get used to the pattern of editing X number of pages on X days, it will no longer be the mind-killing wraith standing over the horizon as you write.

Here is my final word, and something I tell people all the time:

Editing is a gift for writers. It means nothing has to be perfect in the first draft, and you can work on a piece until you are comfortable with it. Then you have to let it go and move on. This story is just one point in your career. Keep going. Keep getting better.

Embrace your story in all the forms of creativity, from first draft to final edit.