I HATE to EDIT – BUT! – by Author Andrew Joyce

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Chris has asked me to write an article about editing. Why me? I hate to edit, and I’m not very good at it, but my finished books (as opposed to this article) are error free. And that is the biggest complaint about self-published books. The errors, and I’m not talking about errors in formatting.

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Let me start with a little story about one author that I know of. She is a very good writer. Her stories move along, and if anyone ever wrote a page-turner, it would be her. However, there is a problem with her books. She either doesn’t edit at all or she does minimal editing. The bottom line is that her lack of editing makes her books unreadable. At least for me.

I offered her advice once concerning her first book. “Take your book off Amazon and fix it.”

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She responded that she might take it down for a day or two and make the fixes. Well, I hate to tell you (and her), but editing is a long drawn-out process. Sometimes editing a book can take longer than it did to write the original manuscript.

Now that I’ve got you demoralized, let’s see what I can do to help.

OHI0203-EditingObsession-500wFirst of all, your job is to write. You come up with the story that everyone wants to read. But editing is a part of the process. Once you have written your story, read it through at least four times making corrections as you go along. Make corrections, but also tighten up the narrative, insert new dialogue, and fix anything else you find needs fixing. In other words, each time, read the story with an extremely critical eye. You will find that new ideas or better ways of saying what you’ve said will come to you during each read. I personally reread the previous day’s work before I start writing for the day. You would be surprised how much your take on what you’ve written can change overnight. This way, I get some editing done as I go along.

Next, get someone else to read your manuscript. Either a friend or a professional editor. If you have more than one friend willing to help out then by all means let them read your book and give you their two cents worth. But remember, not until you have gone over it at least four times yourself. Then take their suggestions and incorporate the ones you want into your story. Then YOU reread the whole thing again.

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I have two friends who read my stuff and they put a lot of effort into making suggestions and pointing out to me that I don’t know where to place commas and other punctuation errors that I continuously make. They also give me suggestions on how to better state a sentence or to eliminate one altogether. My point here is that the more eyes that read your manuscript, the better. Because each set of eyes will see it from a different perspective and each will see things that the other has missed, yourself included.

tumblr_lz1gcr4NsA1qav5oho1_400Make no mistake about it. Writers cannot edit their own work. Steinbeck, Baldacci, the greatest writers in the world all depend on editors. And you see it time and time again when the first person they thank in their books is their editor.

Having said that, you are the only one that can sign off on the finished product.

I know it’s tempting to throw your stuff out there. We all want people to read our genius. I was the worst. But now in my dotage, I’ve calmed down. I will not publish a book until I’ve read it through at least fifteen times, and my editors, at least half that number. On my last book, I worked on the editing an average of eight hours a day, seven days a week for four months straight. After I sent it off, my editor came back with another correction. I fired her on the spot! Just kidding . . . I don’t pay her anyway. And I always read the last draft myself before sending it off to my agent. Notice I’m referring to my books. My blog is still a mess because I HATE TO EDIT!

One last piece of advice. Chris has a wonderful series on his blog titled, Dun Writin’-Now Whut?” by Susan Uttendorfsky. Read every installment. It’s pure gold.

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Post Script: This is not about editing, but if you want to become a better writer, throw your TV out the window and read books . . . great books written by the giants in the field. Even if it is not your preferred genre. Think of it as going to school. You’ll learn more by reading a Steinbeck novel than taking a class where they tell you your diphthongs are all wrong.

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ClickAndrew Joyce to see more about him

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Andrew Joyce Website

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47 thoughts on “I HATE to EDIT – BUT! – by Author Andrew Joyce

  1. I been editing for twenty years (medical, advertising copy, business, and fiction.). It’s a great profession but takes lots of training and practice to be really good at it. I’m a writer of fiction, and I still hire professional editors: one editor for content/developmental so I know my story fulfills plot structure, storyline, theme, and characterization standards; a copy editor to get all the grammar, sentence structure, style (Chicago Manual of Style, CMS), and inconsistencies I missed; a proofreader at the final to catch what I and everybody else missed. I hate to tell you but there’s no such thing as an error-free book. Every book out there has some little mishap (an extra space between words, a missing comma, quotation mark variations, font mishaps, uneven line jags, not to mention a typo here or there, misplaced pronouns and modifiers, split infinitives, and woe to those who don’t know about subject-verb agreement, subjunctive mood, and parallel form). Most readers (and writers) won’t see these errors, but professional editors and proofreaders see them all the time. One thing is quite clear, writers really can’t edit their own work. As clean a copy as I can produce, I fail to see my own errors. I love editors and value their clean eye on my pages. But I also love to edit. CMS is my best friend as is Words Into Type, The Careful Writer, M-W English Usage, and Mark My Words. Thanks for a great post, Andrew. That Peanuts cartoon is a gem!

    p.s. Here’s a trick that is helpful so your eye doesn’t blur up on the page and slip by the errors. Print out the MS in a different font than you’ve been reading, then “white ruler” read it line by line. Blocking out the copy and reading one line at a time will keep your eye tighter on each word so you can catch the difference between an error like “its” and “it’s.”

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  2. Wonderfully done, and it makes me feel a LOT better about how much time I spent editing my own books. It’s funny how little appreciation of editing most non-writers have, and how little appreciation of the need for professional editing many new writers seem to have. While not everyone can afford full substantive editing, it’s well-worth paying someone to at least do a thorough job of final copy editing and/or proofreading to fix the typos and outright errors that will jump out in the eyes of a new reader and make them devalue your work.

    One of my favorite editing stories involves a prestigious medical journal that recently (well, five years ago) published a major and internationally headlined piece of research by one of the most prolific and probably best-paid Antismokers in the world. The research was a public opinion molder, an article designed to change the way the public would view smokers both in the workplace and in public settings, in order to facilitate greater public restrictions on smoking and push members of the public to quit or not start the practice.

    The very first sentence of the Abstract (which is by far the most widely read section of any medical research article) featured the following quite unintentionally humorous statement:

    “The estimated effects of recent pubic and workplace smoking restriction laws suggest that they produce significant declines in community rates of heart attack.”

    (heh, and now you understand why I repeated a certain word so often in the third sentence of this posting…)

    :>
    MJM

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  3. Love this. Often people don’t understand why it takes me just as long to edit as it does to write a book. Some love to edit. It’s not my favourite thing to do but I’d never put out a book without it. Once writing is done, the fun part is over and the real work starts. 🙂

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  4. Good post. My view on this is that writers also need to be editors; producing a well-structured story written in correct prose is the writer’s job. Whether a writer hires an editor or not, they should not rely on an editor to do their job for them; at the very least, they need to be able to tell if the editor is doing a good job. I’ve seen far too many self-published books where an editor is credited where I find myself wondering just what exactly the editor did. It’s also important for a writer to know their own weak spots and get a second (third, fourth) set of eyes on those places.

    I’m another writer who enjoys editing my own works. I like it more than writing the initial draft. I guess that makes me weird 😀

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  5. You’re right on here – saying everything that I’ve known for years. People are in too much of a hurry to publish. I usually write a paragraph, then reread it and make changes, then write a little more, do the same, finish a chapter and go back over it … And after a while, I go back to the beginning and give it another pass-through, or more than one. And I like to let my books “cook” for a long time. After a couple of years, they may look completely different, or they may look perfect (with a few more edits, of course!) We differ only in that I LOVE to edit my own works. I like my own books, and it gives me an excuse to read them again! (And I love the chicken donating the kidney to an editor!).

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  6. I can’t start writing until I have first re-read and edited the previous days work… it gets me in the right frame of mind, helps enormously with continuity, and I always spot ways to make improvements. The editing process takes at least as long as the actual writing for me… and I think I’m a bit weird ‘cos I actually enjoy it!!!

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  7. Oh, this really hit home, Andrew. I am now editing my first novel for the 15th time. I have given it to a few beta-readers and then I will make more changes from their input. It just never ends. Editing is more work than writing itself and I am a copy editor. I copy edit other authors books. I find it more difficult to work on my own stories because they are my babies. I do find that I see things, as you say, from different perspectives each time I read through it.

    Thanks for the good advice. Best of luck with your books and editing, Andrew. It was nice to meet you.

    Thanks, Chris, my ape friend, for posting this helpful blog! You are the best!

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    • I’m an old fart and can barely turn on my computer, and I have never heard of a” beta reader.” They sound good (whatever they are). Anything to help with the editing! Can you direct me to a store that sells them? Thanks.

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    • Hi Jack . . . I advise reading your manuscript at least four times BEFORE you let anyone else read it. Then the fun begins. Between my editors and I (or should I say “me?” Help! I need an editor!), the damn thing is read about twenty times.

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  8. Great advice. I’ve learned from avid reading that it’s a rare book that lacks typos, but I always want my own book to be in that company. Doesn’t matter whose book – the new self-published author or the well-known and celebrated one. I like a book to be well edited and polished. My enjoyment of the book depends on it.
    Thank you for this.

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  9. Oh, and Chris? Have I told you you’re doing God’s work?! Keep it up, one of these days, I might be on here myself….as an author. But not just yet. I’m too busy editing!

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