In Which I Blog about Past Learnings

Poor, poor neglected blog. I haven’t tended to it since Halloween and I can see the dust bunnies frolicking all over it. Shoo! There is writing to be done!

When last we met on October 31, I was in the middle of my first official editing project. I started this blog with the intention of scrawling out editing tips and things I’ve learned. Now, I’m still pretty green at this whole editing thing – editing one book does not a professional make – and there is plenty for this padawan editor to learn.

You may be familiar with structural edits and line edits. These concepts were completely foreign to me. Before this last project, if you handed me a manuscript, I would’ve read it (a few times, to let it marinate in me noggin for a wee bit), then circled back to Chapter One and just edit anything and everything – this is spelled incorrectly, why is the character acting like this when…*scrolls ahead*…5 chapters later they do this? – and I would do this until I reached the words ‘The End.’

For the love of all the literary gods, DO NOT DO THIS TO YOURSELF, EVER. This makes for a painstaking editing process. I did this originally because it was the only process I knew. At the day job, I typically work with content that averages about 400-500 words or less. Just plow through it, right? The process should translate well for a project that’s 75,000+ words long, right? Right??

Oh my heavens, no.

Enter the blessed structural edit phase. Sure, you may open the manuscript and see a grievous misspelling on page one. It calls out to you. Taunts you. “Fix me, if you dare!” But steel yourself, friends…ignore its siren call for correction. You’ll deal with it and all its ilk later during the line editing phase.

When you’re at the structural edit phase, you need to go big before you go small. You’re looking at the story, from beginning to end, and quality testing it. You ask things like:

  • How’s the pacing? Is it rushing? Dragging?
  • How are the characters? Are they acting out of character?
  • How is the plot? Does it logically make sense?
  • How are the characters talking? Do the conversations make sense?
  • How’s the POV? Are we switching heads at all?

If anything strikes you as a red flag, now’s the time to address it. Maybe there’s a scene missing that you didn’t consider before. Maybe you don’t even need a scene any more. Just focus on the big picture of your story first before you start messing with the nitty-gritty details.

Once you’ve addressed all the red flags, break out the fine-toothed comb, because it’s line editing time. Now you can correct that page one misspelling – the one that’s been mocking you for days (that dick). But there are other things to look for:

  • Does your dialogue sound okay?
  • Are you overusing words or phrases?
  • Do you favor super long sentences (that start to get distracting)?
  • Is your voice consistent throughout the manuscript?

Line editing is the phase where you really pay attention to what you’ve written. If you have the time after the structural editing phase, take a break before you get into the line edits. It’ll help give you a new perspective on your project if you look at it with fresh eyes.

Also, bring chocolate (or equivalent noms). It’s not safe to edit without it.

My Friend: Track Changes

When I first started working as a writing intern in college, my knowledge of Microsoft Word was pretty much ‘word processor’ and ‘an improvement from WordPerfect’. (Sorry, WordPerfect – you were on my parents’ computer too long for my taste.) Still, if I wanted to edit something, I’d print out the copy I needed, pull out my handy dandy red pen and limited knowledge of proofreader’s marks and go to town.

Then, my boss showed me Track Changes. And life was never the same.

Track Changes allows you to edit a word document in a non-destructive way. All your words are still there, and you can choose to keep or reject whatever edits were made to the document. And, for the nostalgic, it still has that look like your middle school literature teacher slashed it to pieces with the Red Pen of Doom.

Here’s a little primer on Track Changes. First, get yourself a word doc to edit:

A word document.

Nice to meet you. I’m a word doc.

Then, open up the Review tab, located between Mailings and View.

review pane

The Review Pane in Microsoft Word.

If you haven’t opened up this tab before, it looks a lot of new buttons to take in, but it’s not that bad. Just focus in on the Track Changes icon toward the middle of the pane, and click on it to turn it on.

track changes icon

Track Changes is on and ready for editing, Captain.

And now, you can edit your document. You can get REALLY crazy with it too.

edited text

It’s getting all Christmas-y up in this word doc, yo.

If you remove text, it will (usually) color it red (it can vary between how many people could be editing the doc) and strike it through. New inserted text will be given the same color and underlined. If you decide to move a line of text, it will give it a separate color from your other changes, double-strike it through, and double underline the text in its new location.

Accept and Reject icons

You pick the red button, and all of this goes away. You pick the blue button, and I’ll show you how deep the rabbit hole goes…

Once your word doc is all marked up, you can go through and Accept or Reject the edits that were made to it (though I recommend saving it out to a new file before you do this – having backups is mucho important – just in case you want to reference changes later.) Choose, but choose wisely.

So, first blog post officially complete! I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful. I’ll be back with more funness soon!