Proofing and Editing: Five Tips to Keep You Focused

I’ve been fairly quiet on the blogging front this month – sorry about that! I do want to give Kat a big shout out for her guest post – it seems you guys really liked it and I’m super happy about that! Hopefully I’m going to have more for you all later in the year.

So, why have I been quiet? Well, as you guys probably know, I’ve been working on my novella for the last year or so but the last two-three months has seen me ramp it up and keep on with the editing and proofing of it, getting it to this stage where it’s almost ready to submit! Exciting stuff!

It’s got me thinking though; editing is often seen as the most boring and tedious parts of writing – and I agree to an extent. So, I’m going to share some of my top tips to get you through it without losing any quality. Aren’t you guys lucky?

You can thank me later.

Don’t read off a screen

Okay, I’m not going to lie that I’ve never been a fan of reading on a screen and e-readers in the past, I often find my eyes glaze over after a while and I have to go back and re-read things. The same is true for editing; it’s so easy to miss things on a screen compared to being on paper.

So, my first tip is to print it off and read a physical copy. You will be able to focus easier and your eyes won’t get tired as quick, which is a massive help.

As a side note, I think e-readers, Kindles and tablets in general have gotten a lot better over the years – especially the ones designed to mimic paper – and I do have one myself but not for editing purposes and I still prefer a good old fashioned book!

Use a pen and get messy

Following on from my last point, if you have a printed or hard copy you can make notes as and when you spot them. So many of my old drafts are literally covered in notes in all different pen colours (I have so many around that I use whichever one comes to hand first) and I use these notes to help me make changes in future drafts.

Never lose these drafts because you might want to look back to your old versions later to see the changes you’ve made and be sure they work better. Whether you keep digital copies or hard copies – or both – doesn’t matter. Make a note of everything, it’ll make you a better writer each time you edit something.

Be ruthless

This is probably the hardest part for many writers; deciding what exactly to take out, change or add. I’m not going to lie to you guys, it isn’t easy – and there isn’t a definitive right or wrong answer. Sorry.

In the end, you’ll have to decide what works best. The beauty of writing on word processor or similar program is that changes aren’t final (and this is why you should always keep your drafts somewhere safe).

To keep it simple though, if you have any doubts about a particular word, sentence, paragraph or entire section – get rid of it. You might need only small changes to make it work but you’ll know this straight away. Whatever the specific part is you have doubts about, remove it and see how it works. You can then add something else in. Don’t be afraid to try new things, it’s how we learn and grow as writers.

Set realistic targets

This is also really important. Unless you have a full day, don’t say to yourself you’re going to proof and edit 5,000 words every day – it won’t work. If, like me, you have a job to manage too, work out what’s manageable but make sure you have breaks where you put it aside for the day/night.

My latest project had chapters of around 2,000 words. The first few edits I did 1,000 words a night or so. By the final edits I was doing an entire chapter but I was only picking up final mistakes and changes – nowhere near as much as the early stages.

Editing is mentally exhausting – more so than the actual writing. There’s less creativity and more focus and thought so you need to take that into account. If you have other responsibilities, maybe make it 500 a night or even say 30 minutes. You might come back to it later that night and do another 30 but these are bite size chunks you can handle without sacrificing your focus and quality.

Reward yourself

Finally, give yourself a break every now and then. Watch an episode of your favourite show, some chocolate, buy a little gift (I stress little or you’ll be bankrupt in no time) or something that you can enjoy before getting back to work. Every time you meet your targets, do this and you’ll be more inclined to do it again.

Even if you don’t meet your targets in that period of time, make sure the rewards are there. Give yourself an EXTRA reason to do this on top of getting your writing done. It will help, trust me.

Obviously, this is by no means exhaustive so please share your own tips and methods if you have them. These are just the main thoughts I keep in mind and work to when it comes to the editing stage of any project. Happy editing!

The Trials of Redrafting

As a writer, I find the process of redrafting tedious at best. This is something that not even university has been able to make me enjoy, and when I delivered workshops, it was the hardest thing to get people to do. Writing can be fun and interesting but redrafting, while necessary, can be dull – especially on your own or working on your own piece.

The myths and barriers of a full redraft

In a workshop environment, a redraft can be engaging; it can spark a conversation or debate and it can bring out more ideas and thoughts that you never even considered. The problem is, for much longer pieces of writing, it’s not practical to be in a large group. Even if you have time to read it all, either in the session or in advance, it’s not fair on everyone.

That being said, they are incredibly useful and if you return the favour outside of a workshop environment, you can get some great insight into your work and even your plans for it going forward.

Now, I have nothing against e-readers and kindles. The world is going digital and people like the access. I much prefer reading paper (but I am definitely a fan of typing electronically – it saves me on paper and makes it easier to make changes or fix mistakes) and this includes m redrafting process. I do the best work after printing the piece, annotating in pen or pencil and making the changes electronically.

Running workshops with students and school groups is fun and challenging but the redrafting stage is one of the hardest ones to deal with successfully. Younger groups get bored easily but workshops can also be difficult because not everyone will feel comfortable speaking up or giving their work to someone else – and friends aren’t always honest (or are sometimes honest without tact). So what do you do in this situation?

With a school group, speak to the teacher in question. They know the group better and can give you some advice on how they think and work. If there is an end goal or event for them, give them examples of what others have done – or even your own redrafting efforts – to let them know what they should be looking for but it should be appropriate for the age group you are working with. Older groups will do it because you ask, mostly, but in the end, this process will go beyond your workshop and it is down to each participant to do it and get the most out of you, your session and your experience.

The risk of refinement

One thing that I commonly find is that a redraft, of any length or depth, can dramatically alter the piece of writing – hopefully for the better. The problem is that any amends can change the flow of the story, and that’s something I value highly in all my writing. I’ve given up on too many books because they don’t flow and I don’t want my writing to suffer the same fate, so if something doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t get saved or is reverted to the previous version that worked.

Now, in the moment, the story or piece flows because it came straight from your flow of thoughts. It might not make much sense at first but it can also be crystal clear at times. You can improve the sentence structure, tone, style or plot later but that will alter the flow. It takes a long time to get used to it, and no matter how much experience you have, we’ve all come to that infamous wall that takes us an age to climb over.

Once you make it over, not only does it get easier to redraft and refine the piece, but the results are better. Your confidence grows and that makes your work better. Giving yourself a break from the piece will help you see it with fresh eyes – not that there’s always time for a break, especially if you are studying or working to tight deadlines.

A blast from the past

It’s been over ten years since one of the most important pieces I’ve ever produced was “finished.” Over the next few months, I’m going to redraft the piece titled The Honour of Dying is No Honour At All and see how it compares to my younger self. While I fully expect to improve on the use of language, tone and setting, I’m very curious as to the flow of the story. How will I change it after all this time? I’ve always said I wouldn’t but I think that enough time has passed for me to give it a shot. Maybe I’ll do it again in another ten years – it could prove to be a good way to measure my skills and abilities. Watch this space to see how it goes!