EDITING and PROOFREADING
SPRINTING ACROSS the FINISH LINE
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
CONGRATULATIONS!!!! You have written your story! The initial draft is complete. Now I know you may be feeling wiped out, hyper, relieved, or possibly a jangling mass of sentiments you can’t begin to describe. No problem! Feeling overwhelmed is par for the course. One thing is certain: this fabulous manuscript over which you’ve labored is taking shape. And you understand even though a rough draft exists, it definitely isn’t ready for prime time, right? Of course you do! What you don’t know is how it sounds when read: is it fluid? Is the plot clearly defined? You’ve finally taken the all-important first step! You’re ready to take the final leg of your journey. You’re ready to sprint across the finish line with a final draft. To get there, you’ve got one additional objective left. You’re ready to being editing and proofreading. It’s time to take a critical look at the fruit of your labor.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition defines edit, which is a transitive, or active, verb thusly: “1…c: to alter, adapt, or refine, esp. to bring about conformity to a standard or to suit a particular purpose…” The definition of proofread, which is also a transitive, or active verb, per Merriam-Webster’s is: “…: to read and mark corrections in (as a proof).”
Editing and proofreading are critical elements of writing, and as their respective parts of speech labels imply, they’re a strenuous, intense, noetic, and hands on exercise. They are not interchangeable, rather they complement each other. Editing should be completed first, although proofreading can occur throughout the editorial review process. Begin this process with fresh, rested eyes. After uploading your original, handwritten document, take a break. Let your work sit for a spell. You’ll need a hard copy of the initial draft for review. If it’s more than ten pages, have it duplicated – save your ink and paper for smaller jobs.
When uploading the document, regardless of the size, format it for double spacing. The hard copy will be easier to (a) read, (b), edit, and (c) proofread.
The initial draft is a raw, unvarnished work-in-progress which should have brought together all the key components of your MS. For the purpose of this post, the terms manuscript, MS, and document are used synonymously. They refer to any and all written material, including literary narratives. Once you have a hard copy in hand, you’re ready to revisit what has evolved from the conceptual framework you established. You’re about to commence with what is formally known as editing. And wouldn’t you just know it – there are several phases?
Have a current, hardcover edition of your dictionary handy – located in the same area as your writing utensils and paper. Also have a hardcover copy of Roget’s International Thesaurus, Fourth Edition, and a current hardcover edition of a thesaurus. I recommend Roget’s International Thesaurus, Seventh Edition. Refer to my latest newsletter, Writing: Insights and Approaches to Freeing Your Muse for a discussion on the writer’s tools. Without these lexicons, attempts at editing and proofreading are a waste of time.
Moving right along…
- Basic editing is reading through a document to assess legibility. I suggest doing a word-for-word, sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, and page-by-page review at least twice.
Scribes who deem their initial drafts to be just fine as written need not burden themselves with the more onerous task of rewriting, revising, or fine-tuning their documents. Inditers who are confident of the quality of their work and have determined the messaging is concise, pellucid, and grammatically correct from the opening to the closing paragraphs may choose to dispense with further reading at this point. For those who have yet to attain this degree of perfection – if such a state is desired – there are options!
- Editing 202. This review initiates an evaluation of the MS to determine what needs work. Does the document make sense? Does it stay on point? Is it clear? Are there misspelled words, usage issues, absent, or misplaced punctuation? Is there evidence indicating key words are repeated ad nauseam? Have you used abbreviations, which haven’t been explained, acronyms, which haven’t been spelled out, clichés, parenthetical phrases, text shorthand, or symbols? Are there incomplete sentences, tangential ramblings leading to nowhere in particular? Are there omissions or words and phrases which don’t fit the framework in which they’ve been placed? Editing 202 is all about critically assessing the MS to figure out how to improve the quality of the content and the messaging.
- The Final Edit(s). Editing may result in numerous iterations of the document. Do not limit the number emendations; the final product should be something you like, and are comfortable releasing. Final edits are essentially the finishing touches.
This post is an adaptation of a lecture on editing and proofreading for literary writing. The remainder of this essay emphasizes editing and proofreading in the aforementioned vein. The contents can be adjusted to fit other genres.
Writing, like resumes and initial introductions, leaves a lasting impression. What kind of impact do you want to make?
Proofreading is an adjunct of every component of editing. Once you’ve transcribed your handwritten manuscript, it’s time to look it over thoroughly. You owe it to yourself to read your story in black and white, to hear the voices of your characters, follow the plot, and see what came through you. Take notice of typographical and grammatical errors. This effort enables you to get a feel for the sound of your saga. It’s a gift intended to provide a detailed look at your opus magnum in a semi-finished state and experience what the Universe helped you create.
You’ll begin revising and adding depth to your storyline and portrayals during Editing 202. Diligently utilize your thesaurus. You can replace the words you’ve repeated over and over and over and over…with synonyms of your choice. Take this exercise seriously. Repetitively employed words and phrases, otherwise known as tautology, rob prose of its beauty and vitality. They diminish the quality and obscure the message. Intimately immerse yourself in your tome. Acknowledge the feelings it evokes in you. Now you can do your thang!!! Spread your wings, stimulate your audience’s imagination, and liberate your muse by using terminology which elevates your tale. Strive for eloquence, lyricism, and unforgettable passages.
Refining characters, the plot, the setting(s), and relationships comprising the backstory are also aspects of editing. Approach this stage of the writing in a fashion similar to the way you crafted your chronicle. Write everything out in long hand. Using your double-spaced hard copy, you can make changes using colored ink, highlighters, or permanent markers. Cut and paste wherever needed. Complete all your edits before uploading them. The benefits of this strategy include enhancement of your knowledge of, and familiarity with your content. You’re attuned to the flow of the words. You’ll pick out the extraneous scaffolding: passages which just don’t fit.
Editing is intuitive. Not only are you enhancing your MS – you’re gaining insight into your attraction to this thing called story telling. Keep an open mind – be practical and proactive; be honest with yourself about how the writing looks and sounds. Identify what works and what doesn’t. The Universe will remain a constant guide as long as you are receptive to its presence. Your portrayals will continue to communicate with you while reading through and revising the tale. You could end up adding new material or doing more research.
Some of my initial drafts are awful. Yes, they are! Some are so crappy I can’t believe I wrote them! My challenge is to take what I’ve composed and transform it into something worth reading. I take each opportunity seriously and I’m grateful for the chance to learn, grow, and improve.
Proofreading is an integral part of editing, however, before declaring your work complete, it’s imperative to proof the document specifically for grammatical consideration. Once again do a word-for-word, sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, and page-by-page read through. Look closely for what you missed during editing: sentence fragments, absent, or improper punctuation, misspelled words, omissions, and those annoying items which may not belong, or should be explained because they’re necessary. The foregoing includes: abbreviations, acronyms, ampersands, or symbols, clichés, parenthetical phrases, or text shorthand.
Editing and proofreading, when done using the dictionary and thesaurus, are excellent tools for mastering onomastics and growing your vocabulary. Why settle for the banal, mundane, or mediocre when you can titillate, invigorate, inspire, enrage, amuse, entertain, or educate through savvy word choices?
Editing transforms raw data into the attention-getting, entertaining, eloquent, and thought-provoking narrative you’ve been writing. Come away from it with a clear sense of your story: its beginning, middle, and ending. The MS should have recognizable characters whose presence brings the plot to life while adding heft, substance, and credibility. In sum – your basic tale is coming closer to completion. The connection between you and your creation is a love affair which is either growing deeper, or has led you to some other meaningful conclusion. Ideally you’re totally enamored with your composition. You’ve got something which is darn near ready to be looked over by a trusted outside source, if warranted.
Editing and proofreading should be fun, transformative, and thoroughly satisfying. Your masterpiece should have disclosed surprises, revelations, and perspectives you had no idea were coming through you. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished, energized, and full of hope for the future of your masterpiece. Once you’re ready to let another pair of eyes read what you’ve written, you’ve finished it. Whatever changes come now are based on the input you receive. And you have the right to leave what you’ve composed just the way you wrote it!!! Unless, of course, you’ve been fortunate enough to receive a publishing advance and your editor want you to make revisions…then, it’s either the money or…you get my drift…
Editing your composition is a relationship – one which, at times is tempestuous, often fraught with tension, uneven, yet enormously rewarding. It’s deeply personal and private, gratifying, edifying, and stimulating. It’s demanding, occasionally it is unforgiving, even unyielding. It’s the most important work you’ll do next to actually writing the original draft. Consequently, you must take ownership of your creation. You’ve heard it said before: if you don’t like what you’ve written, no one else will. If you love what you’ve created, your audience will feel this same love. Your attitude toward your writing is reflected through the pages of the narrative – don’t kid yourself into thinking otherwise. If you’ve done what you were led to do, you’ll know without a doubt the truth of your passion. Once again, congratulations!!! I’ll see you at the top – of the best sellers’ list, of course. Until the next instalment – whatever it may be, I remain,