I'm thrilled to be co-teaching a literary essay boot camp with Mothers Always Write this week. In addition to spending some virtual time with awesome writers, I am always appreciative of a chance to hone my editing skills and translate what I know onto paper.
In other words, it's one thing to be able to see what's wrong in a manuscript. It's an entirely different beast to be able to articulate a strong critique to someone else. The process reinforces the idea of layered editing - something in which I am a firm believer. I thought as a good prep for the course, I would blog a few thoughts.
Any writer who thinks a one-and-done editing pass will suffice needs to reconsider. It is impossible to pay attention to all of the various nuances of editing simultaneously. Even armed with a team of beta readers providing feedback, it is still essential to think about the various steps on your journey to a polished piece.
Step One: The Big Picture
Read your manuscript for clarity, because no amount of lovely language will save a reader from confusion or chaos. This is particularly appropriate if you are attempting a non-chronological or experimental approach. If the reader doesn't know what's going on, find the disconnect. (A bulleted plot list or good old-fashioned outline will help you see where the story runs off the rails.)
Step Two: Repetition and Rhyme
This is a great spot to trim down. Where are you repeating or making structural choices that perhaps don't have a purpose? Basically, if you find yourself on the defensive with the phrase But it sounds good, take out the scissors.
Step Three: The Nitty Gritty
This is, in my opinion, the fun step. You get to pour through the language and pat yourself on the back for those gorgeous metaphors or witty analogies. At the same time, banish any banal writing that doesn't live up to your best. Should everything be flowery and overwritten? Absolutely not. But everything should be well-written.
Step Four: Mechanical Clean-up
Conversely, this one is the least fun. And this is a perfect step to call in help if you don't feel that you are the strongest proofreader you could be. For example, if you always forget to use the appropriate 'to' or often misplace modifiers, hook up with a great editor or friend who has an eye for those details.
Some authors may combine multiple steps. I've known others who color code and do a dozen run-throughs. You certainly don't want to edit until you're sick of a piece, but give your work the appropriate respect and time.
Writing has always been an escape, a passion, and a friend. I look for other writers who feel the same.