“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”
Needless to say, editing is challenging. I remember reading that Joyce Carole Oates feels that putting together a first draft can be torturous, but that revising and editing — shaping her material — are what she really enjoys. In any case, since immersing myself in pulling together a polished draft of my YA novel, I’ve been seizing upon any editing advice that seemed useful. Here are a few tips that might prove helpful in your own projects:
Take a break: Give yourself some time if you can, between completing a full draft of your project and editing it. When Stephen King finishes a complete draft of a novel, he likes to put it away for six weeks and work on something totally different during that period.
Start with an overview: Editing is often viewed as simply “cleaning up” a draft: checking for errors and consistency –what’s generally known as “line editing.” But there’s really much more to the process than this: it’s about bringing both your content and your presentation to the highest possible level. Some editors suggest that when you begin to edit, you resist the temptation to tackle typos and minor errors. Instead, look at the big picture. If you’ve written a short story or a novel, start by reading through it and asking yourself whether it really accomplishes what you set out to do. Does it work in terms of delivering on the concept you started out with?
Pinpoint areas to be strengthened: Next, read your draft more critically and look for problems, gaps, inconsistencies, shifts in point of view — anything that might confuse the reader, that bogs down your story or doesn’t really seem to work. One helpful approach: Make a list of these points along with possible fixes and annotate them on your draft.
Tackle different dimensions: Once you’ve handled problem areas, you can polish your draft further by isolating different aspects of your draft and addressing them. For instance, look at your dialogue and see what you can do to sharpen it until it sparkles. Then review your character descriptions — can you make them more distinctive? What about evoking a sense of place — is there more you can do to enrich your settings? How about intensifying the sensual language you use: can you make your story richer in terms of sight, sound, taste, and touch?
Read aloud: Over and over editors suggest that you take the time to read your draft out loud to ensure that it flows smoothly and has the pacing you want.
Proofread: Make sure your draft is totally polished and error free. If you need to, have a
friend with a sharp eye read it, or consider using a professional copy editor.