I’m in an editing stage and in a writing stage. It’s exhausting, but I’m learning how to get through it. I’m writing the second book in the Text-A-Nurse series, and I’m editing two other books. I’m doing all that while getting my blog up and learning the ins and outs of self publishing. I can’t switch from the creative process of writing to the critical process of editing on a dime because I’m not a robot. When I’m done writing a story, I have to get up from the computer and go outside or find a distraction. Nature helps.
Look, there is no way to get around the grammar issues when you’re taking up writing fiction years or decades after you’ve been in an English grammar course. As a nurse, I wrote notes in a lingo that only other health care providers could understand. My observations were recorded on checklists, Soap Notes, or in bullet points. What I’m saying is, my writing skills weakened because I didn’t use correct sentence structure in the course of every day work. If this is you, buy a refresher book and read it. Jane Straus wrote The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, and I’ve found it to be an excellent reference source to keep on my desk. Review until you feel confident. I decided to improve my editing skills and the following is my procedure when my book is complete. I’m still not perfect, but I’m better.
There are editors that help writers with general story arc and character issues, and there are other editors that proof read for grammar, punctuation, or sentence structure problems. Some writers hire proof editors too early in the process. If you haven’t studied grammar and punctuation to get up to speed, you’ll continue making errors during a rewrite or revision. Don’t make that mistake. It impacts your self confidence and that doesn’t help your writing. This article isn’t about using editors; it’s about sharing my tips on how I improved the editing of my own work.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do think a writer’s personality determines how a writer edits their work. Me, I believe spending too much time editing the words in the first stage of writing is a trap. Once the initial writing momentum is lost, it’s hard to get it back. Far better to push on and get the story out of jail (your head). When my creative daily writing is done, I spell check it, correct any obvious grammar issues, and save it. At the beginning I’m more interested in plotting and character developments than editing. After I clear the creative writing side of my brain, I focus on editing a completed story. A story where I feel the characters are ready, the plot is working, and all the loose ends in the story are tied up.
The next step for me is working with a writing group, my friends the PagePounders have set me straight on loose plots and characters that didn’t work many times. The story worked in my head, but not on the page. Changing plot or removing characters is a rewrite of the basic story lines. At the same time they will flag any grammar issues they catch. But here, I’m working on story more than editing sentences. Editing is being layered in at this point but not fine tuned. Then I make a pass over the story pretending I’m a grammar gremlin. I’m better at this because I forced myself to study sentence structure, and I’ve learned from beta reader comments. Most serious beta readers want clean copy and stop reading if your manuscript is cluttered with basic grammatical errors. You need Beta reader feedback so review grammar lessons if you’re weak. Beta readers are amazing and their feedback can make your story better.
My first step is always to print it on paper and read it for grammar and punctuation. Make the changes and save. Next, because I write in New Times Roman, I mark up the entire story (Control A) and change it to Courier. I like to read hard copy in this stage too. Changing the font, changes the way the sentences look and this helps me cut the fat, words that aren’t needed, which slow the reading of the sentence. I also catch small errors where I hit the comma key instead of the period (this usually happens on dialogue tags). As I read, I check for words I’ve combined into one word and it should be two. I check this in a dictionary. Yes, it’s time consuming but worth it. I had a bad habit of putting in hyphens (between words) that didn’t need hyphens. Check every word you hyphenate with the dictionary or in a grammar book source. Worse, I didn’t fully capitalize words like this > University hospital instead of this > University Hospital. Proper nouns are capitalized all the way through. Make changes and save. In the next step, I study chapters out of order. I take a ruler and study the sentences for needed punctuation.
Now, that I have my wildly wonderful Kindle Touch, I compile my story into Mobi, so I can download it into Kindle Previewer on my desktop. Seeing my words on this screen, helps me do more editing by tightening sentences. Then, I download it into my Kindle. My Kindle Touch will read my story out loud to me. (Love this feature). I’ve caught many errors this way, especially run on sentences and wrong words not caught by spell check. After I input corrections, I find one last beta reader to read through for grammar issues.
I hear you. You’re asking why can’t I pay an editor to do this? You can. I’ve decided to be a serious writer, so I needed to learn the editing side of my craft as well as the writing side of it. When you contact an editor, you can send a sample to the editor which they edit to show you their style, and at the same time they see your writing style. Your editing costs will go down by giving the proof reader editor a clean manuscript or at the very least you can negotiate price. Or you can skip all the steps I mentioned and pay the editor(s). Your choice.
What are some of your editing tips? I can create a special page if people share. Don’t be shy, write a comment.