Trust Me, I’m An Editor
By M.K. Martin
First draft – you’re bouncing from the highs of inspiration to the depths writer’s block and back. The last thing you need is the nagging voice of self-doubt reminding you that your character has smiled seventeen times on this page alone or that the passive voice is being used by you. And also, should you really be starting sentences with conjunctions?
“Silence your inner editor!”
Not listening to your inner editor is a great piece of writing advice, but it’s not really helpful. You still worry about these issues. You still have doubts.
So, let me tell you what I learned as both a writer and as an editor. Writing is hard, especially the first draft, especially the middle, and the end, and the first line, and…it’s just hard! Editing is hard, too. You have to read everything you’ve written and frankly by the time you’re done with a novel, you’re pretty tired of those characters and their stupid problems (that you gave them). Also, you’re not a grammar Nazi. Or even a grammar Nazi sympathizer. You wouldn’t know a dangling modifier if it swooped down like Spiderman and carried away your noun, cackling away into the night.
I get it. You’re tired; you’re overwhelmed. You thought writing those beautiful words, “The End” would be just that. Oh, no, my friend. Welcome to Round Two!
Rather than try to shoehorn your story into the corset of “proper” writing, whatever that means in your writerly brain, why not use your editing time to free up your writing brain?
I’ll tell you how in three (easy?) steps:
- Develop an editing process.
- Let your story (and you) rest for a week, maybe two. Really rest. Don’t tinker, don’t add, delete, or change anything. Don’t even think about it.
- Read it over.
- Write your thoughts on a separate piece of paper or in a separate document. Focus on story level issues. This is your developmental edit. Do not correct spelling! Okay, maybe a few, but try to resist the urge to prune a few bushes while the forest burns.
- You’ve got some chapters and scenes to add, delete or change. Do that.
- Re-read the whole thing. Did you catch all the issues? If not, go back to step C. Rinse, repeat until you’re happy.
- You’re in the scene level edits now. This is where you go through and polish up each scene, check for consistency issues, attack a few egregious spelling errors, but stay focused on fixing the story, not the words.
- Last re-read. Promise.
- Still happy? Now, you can do the proofread. Look for words you just always overuse. One of mine is ‘just’. I just love it! Get a basic style guide, like “The Elements of Style” by Strunk & White or check online at sites like Grammar Girl or the Chicago Manual of Style. This is where you fix spelling errors, fuss with commas and periods, maybe even use a semicolon.
- Trust your process will catch mistakes and improve, not ruin your story.
- Write your next story with the smug surety that it doesn’t matter how awful, illogical, poorly-paced, etc. it is – you’ll be able to fix all of that in your edits.
Take me as a case study. My first NaNoWriMo I agonized over the story. It was a painful process that required much willpower and some drinking to complete. What? I like tea!
Years later, after developing my editorial skills, I tackled NaNoWriMo again. This time, I just let go and wrote whatever madness came to mind. I had a blast! There are several chapters totally out of order. There are scenes of nothing but narration and others that are all dialogue and no setting. But I don’t care. I know I can fix it all and my confidence lets me cut loose in my first draft. Being a good editor frees me to be a truly creative writer.
About the Author:
M. K. Martin is a motorcycle-riding, linguistics nerd. A former Army interrogator with a degree in psychology, she uses her unique knowledge and skill set to create smart, gritty stories that give readers a glimpse into the darker corners of the human mind. Find out more at mkmartinwriter.com. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MKMartinwriter/