How important is Editing? (Part One)

Editing

Editing: How important is it, really? (Part 1)

If you want your readers to move past your first sentence, then editing is crucial.

When I read an article or book, if I can’t find my way past the first few sentences, then it becomes a real struggle to keep forging ahead. Out of respect for the author of the piece, I usually continue through to the end, but the editor in me is subconsciously picking up any little discrepancies of spelling, grammar, tense and flow. These are the elements of writing – and I mean any writing – that MUST be right.

There are other elements that you NEED to do, SHOULD do, and would be NICE to do, but these are secondary to the absolutes that MUST be in your writing and will be discussed in Part 2.

MUST DOS

These MUST DOS of editing don’t necessarily come in the order as shown below, but this is how my brain sorts them when my Editor’s Hat is on. Suffice to say, they are ALL crucial in any writing you do.

Correct spelling

This can be a bit tricky when there are conflicts between UK and US spelling, such as Colour (UK) or Color (US), and Organise (UK) or Organize (US). US spelling likes to shrink down the traditional spelling of a word, hence the removal of “U”. US spelling also likes to spell things more phonetically, so the way a word sounds when spoken. Thus, “-ize” instead of “-ise”. That’s why they pronounce “Aussie” like “Os-See”, instead of “Oz-Zee” as authentic Australians do. Which ever spelling you decide, make sure you stick with it, so it’s consistent. Otherwise, if your work has bits of both, then that will drive any editor crazy, and also your readers.

Correct grammar

I don’t expect you to be a wizard at the English language and its oh-so many exceptions to the rule, but if you are a native-born Aussie, or from a country where English is the national spoken language, then you should be able to READ ALOUD your piece and pick up quite a few errors along the way. Read it slowly so you don’t automatically assume words are there, like “a”, “and”, “an”, etc. Our brains are adept at glossing over inoperative words that don’t change the intent of what you are trying to read. (That’s why speed reading works so well for some.) But losing the grammatical flow can confuse the meaning and therefore impact the understanding of your readers.

Accurate punctuation

Most people know that a sentence starts with a capital letter and ends with a full-stop (period (.)), question mark (?) or exclamation (!). These are very basic, but critical, elements of writing construction. But, did you know that putting a comma in exactly the right place can make a huge difference on the impact of your work?

Oscar Wilde famously stated that he spent one entire morning taking out a comma.

He then spent the afternoon putting it back again. 

Commas have been used to indicate a pause, like a breath, in writing. They can be used singly or in pairs, like a set of brackets. When used like the latter, you must be able to read the sentence as if the middle bit between the commas is taken out and it still makes sense.

Once upon a time there was a little girl called Goldilocks who wandered into a quaint little house with red shutters and door with potted plants on window sills to see if she could find a bed.

This needs some serious comma work!

Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Goldilocks, who wandered into a quaint little house with red shutters and door, with potted plants on window sills, to see if she could find a bed.

Then there is the Oxford (Serial) comma, which comes before an “and” or “or” in a list of three or more elements. Sometimes they are overused and unnecessary, such as in a list of ingredients to bake a cake, so it’s obvious that all the elements are connected. However, they are correctly used if someone is explaining a smaller group of connected elements within a larger group.
For example:

Janice is inspired by cooking her family and her fluffy dog.

This needs a comma and a serial comma to make better sense and not sound like something out of a psycho crime thriller:

Janice is inspired by cooking, her family, and her fluffy dog.

Consistent tenses

Traditional novels were written in past tense, where the narrator described things that happened already. Many modern novels are written in present tense, with the narrator describing what is happening right now. The first time I read a novel written in present tense, it took me some time to get used to it, but eventually it clicked. What has disturbed me since then is reading some that are not consistent, so there is a mixture of past and present tenses throughout the work. This has really driven me nuts because I don’t know where I am, or where the protagonist is in the book’s timeline. If you choose to write in present tense, make sure you stay there!

Flow

Read and re-read your story, slowly and out loud, so that you can see, feel and hear where the storyline is going, and whether the main chunks have lined up in the correct sequence. If you miss this crucial step, then your readers will lose their place in the story and drift away.

The secondary elements – NEED to do, SHOULD do and NICE to do – will be addressed in Part 2.


Kerri Yarsley – Contributor

Kerri’s love of books really took off from her Year 12 readers: Pride and Prejudice, The Go-Between, The Once and Future King, and The Lord of the Rings (which she read in full six times that year, taught herself Elvish and translated the Elvish script on the book’s cover). This opened up a vast world of fantasy and imagination which has stayed with Kerri ever since.

A decade or two later, Kerri forged a career in the training and instructional design space, creating materials and courses for computer systems and applications. This world had videos, audios and magic! Creativity could burst forth.

So, Kerri decided to write a book – The Instruction Manual for Kids – Parent’s Edition. She had the experience of a couple of decades in both areas – kids and instruction manuals – so what could go wrong?

You can find out more about Kerri here…

The book you write will change the world

Writing A Book Isn’t Easy

As the saying goes, “If it was easy, everyone would do it,” and when we start making friends with other writers it feels like everyone is doing it.

Just finding the time to sit with our thoughts long enough to commit something to paper (or screen) is a challenge in this busy world.

But, we’ve got a story.

We have this idea that won’t let go. So we sit and write.

“Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I was the last person on earth, would I still do it?” Steven Pressfield

Flash forward a few months or years. We’ve invested the time, spent hundreds, sometimes thousands, of hours hunched over a notebook or a keyboard. Typed “The End.” (A few people have suggested that we don’t type “The End”. Okay, so it’s implied.)

We print it out, ask a friend or trusted family member to read it. Or not. Must be careful with it. It’s our baby.

We secretly suspect this is the best book ever written…

Your book will make a difference, we say. If I can just get an agent. The right agent. And the publishing deal. A great publishing deal. With an enormous advance. If we can get this life-changing book into the hands of readers, everything will change.

It’s true. The book you write will change the world.

Your world.

Creative pursuits have a way of changing you.

When your manuscript is finished, you will be a completely different person to the one who started writing.

Creative pursuits have a way of changing you. You start out as a person with an idea and a passion. As you write, ten minutes a day, twenty minutes a day, you become the kind of person who makes time every day to sit down and write. The people around you might think it’s odd at first. Maybe there will be some gentle jokes at your expense. “The next JK Rowling, eh?” Maybe. They’ll get used to it.

By sitting every day, or most days, to write, you develop a practice. Passion brings you to the page but only devotion keeps you there day after day. You could pay a ghost-writer, but if you really want to change the world, your world, writing the book will do it.

Think process, not product.

So, get writing. Stephen King says our first million words are rubbish anyway, so you might as well get it over with.

Read. Do classes. Get your ten thousand hours under your belt. Then keep writing.

Find your audience.

Start a blog, a podcast, make Facebook Live or TikTok videos of you reading from your work.

Have fun with it. If you don’t, who will?

On that note, I offer one more suggestion to you, my fellow writer.

Relax.

Those who talk about the 10,000 hours seem to forget that Gladwell also recommends we rack up about double that in time away from our passion to let the lessons marinate. Be passionate, be devoted, but please enjoy the writing journey.

As overused as that word is, ‘journey’ is the right word to use because this writing life is a voyage into the unknown and, like any great voyage, the experience will change you.

Christine Betts – Contributor

Christine Betts is an Australian writer who left her heart in Paris years ago. She can usually be found at the beach or sitting at a cafe, pen in hand. Her long-time internet handle, WriterPainter, is also the name of her blog on creativity, writing, art, meditation, and spirituality. She believes everyone is creative, and it is through our act of creating that we find our purpose and meaning in life.

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