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Editing - the bane of my existence

I know, I said my blog today would be called Echoes of my Past, but when I started writing this morning, I just was not in the mood for reflecting on my past and getting even more melancholic than I already am. I mean, we are in the ninth day of lockdown and rumours are that it might extend for four months! Four months! I'm fine self-isolating and not going out. I mean, as a writer working from home, I quite like it, but it would kill me not seeing my husband and daughter for the next four months, and live in limbo like I'm doing now. I want to settle. I had enough of travelling for now. So yes, becoming ever more melancholic is not on my agenda for today.

I rather want to talk to you about something else, and that is editing. I'm not talking about that final, final, final edit before publishing. I'm talking about editing that first, or even fourth draft, the one you may send to your beta readers and even long before you send it to an agent, a publisher or editor. This kind of editing is the one where you have to make the decisions.

The first rule I've learned since I've started writing was: do NOT edit your work every day! You will find you often spend so much time editing and re-writing what you've written that you never progress. It took me eight weeks to write my first book. It took me less than three weeks to write my eighth. And no, it wasn't perfect. Far from it. My eighth book is actually the first book I showed to anyone and the first one I submitted for publishing in the end - after draft number eight or ten or something like that. And after that, the editing wasn't done. I went two rounds of editing with my first publisher and editor. I then went another round with a second editor and yes, you guessed it, another round or two with a third editor and proofreader. And I still find mistakes three years later.

You may ask yourself the question: why so many times editing and still there are mistakes? My answer is simple: We're human. We make mistakes. And the more you edit it yourself, the more mistakes you make. It sounds crazy but it is true.

Now, let's go through the process. First, you do research, you draft, you plot and you plan, which may take you days, or weeks or even months and in some people's cases, even years. And then one day you put your bum on the seat and you start writing (and NOT editing in between), until you can type THE END. You feel awesome. You've done what you set out to do and it is to write the book. Your first instinct is to dive right in and start editing.


Leave the manuscript to stew for at least two or three weeks or even a month if you can. Take your time to do research for the next book or plan and plot to your heart's content or do the stuff you neglected when you were writing. And then, when your mind is fresh, you take the manuscript out of your bottom drawer and then you can start editing. But what if is not in your bottom drawer? Do you work on the file on your computer? Apparently not. Most people will advise you to print it out, bind it, and work on the print document.

But now we have a dilemma. Because more than half the world is in lockdown, you can't print and bind your manuscript. Now what? You have all this time on your hands but you can't edit? You want to! You really, really want to edit and re-write and fix all the flaws you know is there so what do you do?

I may get a few reprimands for this but my advice is: go for it. I have just one rule though: DO NOT WORK ON THAT ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT! Save it and stow it away. Save several copies on different disks but DO NOT TOUCH that original manuscript. Every time I rework a manuscript I save it as, eg. EyeOnTheBall_1stDraft and EyeOnTheBall_2ndDraft, etc. I do the same with the edits, eg. EyeOnTheBall_1stEdit, 2ndEdit, etc. Each manuscript has its own folder with different subfolders named Research, Communication (for emails, contracts, etc), Older versions, etc. Only the final version should be in the main folder.

Why? Because I made the mistake once by deleting a long scene and a week later I regretted it. And I couldn't remember exactly what I've written as I've written it months before. So, do not make that mistake. And while I'm talking about mistakes. Back-up. Regularly. Every day. But that's another topic all together so let's focus on editing.

Now, since we've broken that cardinal rule of editing an electronic version, which is the best way to do it? I can't tell you that. You must find what works best for you because each person has his or her own method. There are several ways to do it and you may get so many contrasting advice. Let's look at a few tips. Some I've tried and some I haven't tried yet. The lockdown might be a while so I may try them all.

1. Using a different font

I'm not so sure it works for me, as I'm used to working in different fonts but some people insist on it. Here is a YouTube video by Tinylittletutorials. Maybe it will help you?

2. Using a different colour screen

While travelling, I used this feature in Scrivener on my iPad. Instead of using the black on white background, I changed to black on white for editing. I think it causes your brain to concentrate more on the words and you pick up several mistakes. It might be worth a try.

Talking about the different colour screen, Jami Gold use something more profound, and that is colour coding. It might work for you but for me, it is too 'technical'. I'm a natural writer, a pantser, please. I can't plan my scenes exactly like that but check it out here

3. Using a different programme

I usually work in Word, but recently, just trying to be different and because load-shedding played havoc with my writing and editing time, I uploaded my manuscript to Google Docs so I could continue working on either my laptop or Ipad (which I've kept charged, of course). Docs allowed me to do the same kind of editing I do in Word, but somehow I picked up mistakes I hadn't in Word. So in future, I might use it as a final editing step.

4. Using a different device

Well, I can't tell you much about this one, as I'll only be testing it this week. I'm talking here about using a different device (Ipad) and programme or App (LiquidText). I'll report on that later.

5. SpeakAloud

If you want to use Word, have you tried the SpeakAloud feature yet? I've tried it for my final proofread, and somehow you do pick up mistakes. I think it might work better for non-fiction than fiction where you don't have a lot of dialogue because the woman on my computer doesn't sound like my character and it irritates me more than helping me. Maybe it is just me. :)

Okay, now you've decided what programme or method you will use to edit your book, how are you going to approach it? I'm not going to waste my time to tell you the best way to do it. Joanne Penn had said it best in her blog The Creative Penn.

Just remember: you can edit too much. You can use software like ProWritingAid and Grammarly and The Hemingway App to correct your grammar, but be careful not to edit the voice - yours and your characters - out of your manuscript. You do NOT have to follow each and every so-called rule. I know, I had, and it killed my story. My character didn't sound like he had because all the grammatical rules changed the fact that my character is not a native English speaker. He makes mistakes. And none of these programme has a feature for South African English.

You can get so much advice from everyone and it can be overwhelming. In the end, you must follow your instinct, your gut, and do what is right for you and your story.

And yes, a final point: while you are editing an electronic version, just remember that this would not be the final editing. If you feel you need to edit now, I would suggest you follow Joanne Penne's advice first. Go through your manuscript. Do not make dramatic changes. Make notes. And then, when you can, you print it out and edit it the traditional way.

Good luck with the editing!

Until next time


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