Novelists use many different writing skills in their journey from idea to completed book. One skill that can be overlooked by first-time writers, though, is editing. Many of today’s authors issue books via self-publishing, which can often mean that those authors edit their own work rather than use a professional editor. Great writers who self-edit handle everything from broad conceptual editing to copyediting, proofreading, and eventually rewriting. Self-editing skills are important for any level of writer, whether you are working with a dedicated editing team at a major publishing house, hiring a freelance editor, or publishing your own writing.
David Baldacci’s 7 Editing Techniques
As an author of thrillers and mysteries, David Baldacci knows the importance of taut, efficient prose. Substantive editing plays a big part in transforming his first drafts into writing that rises to the level his readers expect. Here are some of David’s best editing tips:
- Edit while you work. David does a twofold editing process: The first edit happens while he is writing his novel. He continually goes back to look over his earlier chapters— particularly the first ones—to polish and adjust his work.
- Wait until you’ve finished a draft to do a substantial edit. David’s second, more substantial, edit happens when he’s done with the entire manuscript. He moves chapters around, cuts and adds scenes, and deepens his characters.
- Stay flexible. Approach your big edit with an open mind and honest perspective. You may find you have to eliminate a character, a whole subplot, or even change elements of your main storyline. As you read the whole book at once, new insights will come to you. Trust yourself, try not to be too precious about your work, and be willing to kill your darlings (even if that means doing away with a favorite action scene or a character you love).
- Work line by line. After you’ve got the draft into the shape that you want it, take a closer look at the language on a line-by-line basis. This is called a line edit. In addition to catching typos and spelling errors, line editing can usually get rid of at least 10 percent of your writing by simply trimming your sentences and ditching unnecessary words. Pay special attention to passive voice and switch it for the active voice to make your writing more efficient.
- Think in terms of chapters. Ask yourself, “What did I accomplish in this chapter?” Write a short answer for each chapter and create an outline-type overview of the whole novel. This is a good place to notice if a chapter is too busy (maybe it’s trying to do too many things at once and needs to be broken up) or too dull (in which case it may need to be cut, or shortened, or mixed into another chapter). Doing an edit like this will help you control the pacing of your story. And don’t forget: Some chapters exist to set up the following chapters, which in itself is a valid objective.
- Come back with fresh eyes. Once you’re done with your edit, take a break. Put the manuscript on a shelf for a few weeks or months. When you return to it, you’ll bring a fresh perspective to the editing process that will help you enormously in any future editing.
- Don’t overdo it. A great editor doesn’t try to make everything perfect. Over-editing your novel can crush your original inspiration and damage the good work you’ve done.
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