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Editing Attitudes to Live By

Posted by on Feb 8, 2018 in Busybird | 0 comments

In our last blog, we offered a 10-step process for revision if you were a writer.

In this blog, we’re going to take a look at it from the other side – if you’re an editor or providing feedback in a workshop group.

Now many of the last blog’s rules can still apply if you’re editing or providing feedback. What’s distinctly different here are the attitudes you need to keep in mind.

1. Recognise What the Author’s Trying to Accomplish
It’s amazing the amount of authors and feedbackers who try to take a piece in the direction they think it needs to go. Sure, sometimes an author might be unclear on what their story’s about. A manuscript that was initially about adultery might twist into a story about a character’s emotional and intellectual growth.

It’s times like this when the editor needs to gently challenge the author with a simple question: What do you think your story is about? This can be enlightening for authors – a question they’ve never asked themselves because they’ve been too immersed in the material to see objectively.

Once they understand (or realise) what the story’s actually about, the editor or feedbacker should help them try to get to that destination, rather than take them somewhere they don’t want to go, are unwilling to go, or never intended to go.

What an editor/feedbacker should never, ever do is make an assumption, or conclude what a piece is (or should be) about because that is going to prejudice their feedback, and possibly take the author further and further from their vision. It’s also going to cause friction between the editor/feedbacker and the author.

What often ultimately happens is that instead of getting an author’s vision, or even the editor’s vision, you get this murky neither here nor there vision.

2. Do Not Edit by Committee
This applies particularly to workshopping groups. Five people might’ve read a piece, and then a few of them might start commenting on what they believe the piece needs. Their comments stimulate other conversation. Somebody who’s been silent to this point might feel they need to agree. Somebody else might think they need to say something for the sake of saying something. If you have somebody particularly dominant and/or influential providing feedback, others might unwittingly support them to curry favour, or so they’re seen to be contributing, even if they don’t particularly believe in what they’re saying.

Often, as a group they begin brainstorming as if this was their idea. This process works in a television writer’s room where a group of writers try to map out a television series and every possibility has to be exhausted, but in this situation the showrunner (the writer in charge) still has the overarching vision. Everybody is working towards that vision. When they stray, the showrunnner will herd them back into line.

The collective often doesn’t work for stories or books. Instead of trying to fulfill the author’s vision, or even their own individual vision (which they shouldn’t be doing – see the previous point), they create this bastardised hodgepodge vision that doesn’t belong to anybody.

3. Honour the Writer’s Voice
Lots of editors and feedbackers are writers themselves. Unfortunately, this means that too many editors and feedbackers go into an author’s piece as if it were their own, and begin revising and commenting according to what they would do had this been a piece they’d written.

The author might use short, punchy sentences, whereas the editor/feedbacker might prefer if the sentences were longer. They might create unnecessary linkages. Etc. They rewrite passages. Or make suggestions in accordance with what they would do, rather than what the author would do.

This isn’t editing. This isn’t providing feedback. This is ghostwriting.

Honour the writer’s voice. Honour their style. Obviously, there are grammatical and punctuation rules that need to be observed but it’s imperative to find the author’s wavelength and keep their work sounding uniquely like them.

4. Do Not Be Afraid of White Space
Way too many editors and feedbackers panic if they’ve gone some distance – like a page – and haven’t made a comment. That unblemished margin intimidates them. They feel they need to comment just to prove they’re doing their job.

It might simply be that the content doesn’t need commenting. Yes, this happens! Something can be just fine.

Don’t fear white space in a margin.

5. Don’t Let Your Reputation Get to Your Head
Some editors and feedbackers may have a reputation they feel they need to live up to, e.g. from my own experience, I had a reputation for slashing verbosity, and for a little period there felt I needed to slash – whether the text deserved it or not – to justify my reputation. But then I learned – just as with the white space – it’s okay to not do anything.

This is an extremely difficult thing for lots of editors and feedbackers. They’re not reading a piece for recreation. They’re going into it with the intent of editing and commenting, so feel they need to regardless.

Remember – and not just in relation to this point, but editing and providing feedback overall – sometimes, things are fine just as they are.

These are the attitudes to keep in mind while editing or feedbacking. They’re attitudes you should live by.

An author’s work – even if that work is ridiculously flawed – is sacred. The work not only represents the author, it is the author.

Be respectful, if not reverential, and help the author get to where they want to go.

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A 10-Step Process for Revision

Posted by on Jan 25, 2018 in Busybird | 0 comments

How do you approach revision? Do you just sit down and trust your instincts? Do you just let whatever happens happen? The chances are if you have a haphazard approach, you’ll have haphazard results.

When revising, you should have a plan. You should have a methodical approach that’ll cover all the requirements of the revision.

Here’s the ten-step process I use …

10. Read Your Work Until You’re Sick of It
If you think that first draft is great, you’re kidding yourself. The first draft is a spill. This is where you just need to get everything out. It might contain the potential for greatness, but it’s going to need work.

Read it, reread it, and keep doing that until you can get no more out of it.

9. Put Your Work Away for a Period
Sometimes, deadlines don’t allow us this leeway. But, if you can, put your work away – for a minimum of one week, but for as long as three months (or longer) if possible.

When you finally go back to it, it should be with a fresh perspective. You might’ve even come up with a few new ideas during the interim. Often, stepping away from your work – and removing that pressure to produce – frees your imagination.

8. Start Reading and Rereading Again
Attack your work with a new vigour. If you’ve given yourself enough time, it’ll be like reading something for the first time. This’ll help with your objectivity.

7. Send It Out to Alpha Readers
Develop a network of like-minded people with whom you share your work and exchange feedback. Make sure they’re people you respect, and who understand what you’re trying to do. They don’t have to be writing the same genre as you to provide good feedback. But do be conscious of people who specialize in a certain genre, and read everything through the filter of that genre, e.g. they only read romance, and expect everything else they read to be written the same as romance would be written.

6. The Feedback Revision
You should now have some feedback to focus on. Get back to revising. Address every point. Even if you don’t agree with feedback, consider why that feedback was offered. Is there something about that particular point you should consider, even if it’s a different facet of it? If more than one person has given you the same feedback, then it’s probably valid.

5. The Double Read
Read a chapter, then read it again. The first read is just to familiarize yourself with everything and where it’s all heading, and the second time is to address it with that familiarity fresh in your mind. Just because you’re the author doesn’t mean you’re going to remember every line you’ve written. This double-reading technique imprints the prose on your mind on the first pass so that you can revise with abandon on the second.

Finally, don’t do too much daily – only about twenty or pages or so (which will actually amount to forty pages or so when you read everything twice). The mind tires easily, so it’s best to stagger the digestion of the material.

4. The Red Edit – Structure
Change the colour of the font to red. This forces the brain to process the information differently. If possible, change the font also. Examine how your writing works as a whole. Does it make sense? Are you delivering your information in the best way to communicate your message? Are your characters layered? Are they necessary? Are there areas that are overwritten which could be more succinct? Etc. Be merciless. Test your writing’s defenses and exploit it’s weak spots. If, at any time, your response to a query is, I think it’s okay, then it’s likely it’s not okay.

As with the double read, try not to do too much daily.

3. The Blue Edit – Copy
Now change the colour of the font to blue. Again, if possible change the font to something else.

Focus now on the copy, correcting grammar, and punctuation. Examine your writing line by line. is it clear? Is there a better way to say things?

Importantly, give yourself lots of breaks as you’re doing this. It’s very easy to slip into reading your writing without registering anything.

2. The Normal Read
Return the font to whatever colour and type you’d normally use. Sit down and read your book as if you had picked it up to read recreationally. Whereas in previous steps, you would’ve read only a small, set amount daily, now read it in big clumps to see if the flow works. The pacing is something that’s hard to judge when you’re deeply immersed in the copy itself.

1. Run a Spellcheck
Even if your spelling is brilliant, run a spellcheck. Often, spelling errors are a result of mistyping, rather than not knowing how to spell.

If you’re using Word, turn off the grammar checker. The grammar checker can, unwittingly, introduce errors. if you have a fine understanding of grammar and can recognize when this is happening, great, but if not, it’s best to proceed without it.

Does this seem like a lot of work?

It is – but writing is. People who believe they can vomit out a first draft and give it one quick read and revision before sending it out are deluding themselves.

Writing is a lot of hard work.

Don’t ever believe otherwise.


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