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What kind of techniques do you use in your writing while editing?

I have a hard time editing my work and I really want to get over a barrier I put up myself. I know when a part of my story needs help but I can't put my self to change it. I find it heartbreaking. How do you get over that, if you have that problem and how do you organize your thoughts while editing? writing writing-and-editing creative-writing

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Stefania’s Answer

Trimming down your own written content is very difficult, but there are things you can do to help the process along. One of the things I like to do as I'm writing is to keep in mind the importance of each word, line or paragraph. Readers and audiences are time sensitive these days so every word and phrase you use should have purpose and intention to move your story along. Something else you can do is put yourself in a reader's shoes: are things clear? Flow from one idea to another easily? The very best way to figure out what can be cut out is to have a peer look at your editorial work. Choose someone who is knowledgeable about editing and writing. But also choose someone who might fall into your readership audience. Sometimes things might make sense to you, but not to an outsider who is reading your content for the first time. You can also use resources like Grammar Girl as you write to keep your editorial quality present. Good luck!

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Stuart’s Answer

During my MFA classes, one of my instructors scolded me for unpolished work, and she insisted that I work upon only one story for an entire semester - this led to 27 revisions, and during this period, I learned that revision should be considered "re-vision" and not simply copy editing or trimming.

I am still a poor editor of my own work. Two "tricks" have helped me: 1) read the work out loud to yourself (because you will "hear" places that need your attention) - this works particularly well after your second or third draft, and 2) for the final edits, read it backwards (last line first, and so on) so that you are not lulled by your own intentions.

Here's some good advice: John Gardner's How To Become a Novelist with an intro by Raymond Carver. In the intro, Ray Carver offers a difficult but useful exercise: as you review your work, remove your very favorite line; if you are enamored with it, it probably belongs elsewhere. This one piece of advice has been the hardest and most useful advice I've put to use over the years.
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Stuart’s Answer

During my MFA classes, one of my instructors scolded me for unpolished work, and she insisted that I work upon only one story for an entire semester - this led to 27 revisions, and during this period, I learned that revision should be considered "re-vision" and not simply copy editing or trimming.

I am still a poor editor of my own work. Two "tricks" have helped me: 1) read the work out loud to yourself (because you will "hear" places that need your attention) - this works particularly well after your second or third draft, and 2) for the final edits, read it backwards (last line first, and so on) so that you are not lulled by your own intentions.

Here's some good advice: John Gardner's How To Become a Novelist with an intro by Raymond Carver. In the intro, Ray Carver offers a difficult but useful exercise: as you review your work, remove your very favorite line; if you are enamored with it, it probably belongs elsewhere. This one piece of advice has been the hardest and most useful advice I've put to use over the years.
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Liz’s Answer

First, I try to work out the beginning. The first couple of beginnings I write are never (or rarely) the right ones. I start too slow, bury the lede, or don't begin in the middle of the action. So I try to find what the center of my piece is and begin from there.


Once I've got a beginning in place, I look at the rest of what I've written and ask myself some questions: Do the next paragraphs "ramp up" from the beginning? Does anything need rearranging? What can I cut? What needs further elaboration?


Then I look at the end. Does it deliver something strong? If I'm trying to make an argument, have I made it clear and strong, possibly with a call-to-action? If I'm writing a personal essay, have I ended on something compelling, something emotional? If it's a larger work, like fiction or memoir, have I reached the conclusion or emotional arc I wanted to? If not, I go back to the middle and see what needs to be altered.


Then, I go through and check for smaller errors -- spelling, punctuation, grammar. I find that printing it out and reading it aloud helps with this. Then you can make notes for further editing later.


If you want to do that as you go, I suggest Grammarly, which checks for spelling, grammar, missing articles, comma usage, subject-verb agreement, and a lot more. It isn't perfect -- some words can be marked as misspelled when they're not. For example, the word "lede" in my opening paragraph is marked as misspelled, but it's a word that's used in journalism, defined by Merriam-Webster as "<span style="color: rgb(59, 62, 65);">the introductory section of a news story that is intended to entice the reader to read the full story." The point is that you always want to double-check unusual words to make sure they're correct. An app won't solve all your problems. </span>


There's also the Hemingway app that you can copy/paste your text into. It'll check for things like unnecessarily complex sentences, complex words that could be replaced by simpler ones (use vs. utilize, etc.), adverbs that could be replaced by better verbs, and the passive voice. It will also show the "readability level" of your work. The average American reads at an intermediate grade level, which the app defines at 10th-grade, so you want to aim for that or below.


Then, I ask at least one other person to look over it. Ideally, this would be someone a) in the target market for whatever I'm writing who b) has some background in reading/writing/editing and c) is willing to write all over it with a red pen. I don't want a potential editor to go easy on me -- having a tough critic in your corner will strengthen your writing overall.


Once they're done with it, I look over their suggestions, determine what's best for my writing (some darlings have to be killed, but others can stay if you can make a good argument about why), and then go back to square one.


Lather, rinse, repeat until you feel that there's nothing more you can do to better your work!

Liz recommends the following next steps:

Check beginning for strength, clarity, and message.
Ensure that the middle paragraphs build on the momentum of your beginning and that you end with the best possible resolution or argument.
Check for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and other small errors. Grammarly and the Hemingway app can help with this.
Give your work to at least one other person so they can check for things you may have missed.
Review their suggestions (with a grain of salt), then start fresh at square 1. Repeat until you feel you've delivered the strongest writing you possibly can.
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Simeon’s Answer

First of all, you can hold on to old editions of your work in case you end up feeling like you deleted something by mistake. Just highlight the section and make some notes about why you deleted what you did. For editing, it is also crucial to get other peoples eyes on your work as you will often miss things that you assumed were obvious to the reader. Make sure to avoid using the same word multiple times in a row, even if they are grammatically correct.
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Susan E.’s Answer

I don't use any special technique in my writing while editing. Editing is the last thing I think about. First I write, then look over and proofread. The proofreading is part of the editing process.

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Gloria’s Answer

I would say that you have a few different options for editing your writing. First and foremost, avoid editing in during the first draft. Just get all of your thoughts out. After that, read what you have written aloud. Reading aloud usually helps you see if you are saying what you mean to say. Remember, there is always something that needs to be changed. You are never going to get a perfectly written story the first time. You should be eager to find a way to improve your story. Another way to handle your writing is to share it with others and get their feedback. Critique is a natural part of the process. it will allow you to get used to what challenges you may have your writing.
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Christy’s Answer

As the saying goes, writing is rewriting. You also have to be merciless about your own work. If something isn't working, throw it out and do it over.


You weren't specific about what aspect of editing you're talking about. Editing can cover an overview of character development, plot construction, the larger arc of the story. Or it can cover the choice of language, flow of sentences, correct use of grammar and punctuation.


Here are a couple of techniques:

Christy recommends the following next steps:

If you've written a first draft and it doesn't feel right, or doesn't feel as though it's working...throw it out. Start over from scratch. You'd be surprised at how much you can improve something by writing it over again from page one.
Read it out loud. This is a good technique for find rough places in your writing, and for getting a sense of how well your language flows.
Look for places where you can start a scene or section further along than you have. Look for ways to get into the heart of your scenes without excessive introduction.
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