Editing and revising your storyIn Lesson 5 I suggested that you should write first and edit later. Well, now that you have had a chance to let your ideas flow freely, it’s time to start removing the waffle, the repetition, the boring and irrelevant bits, the purple prose, the unnecessary long words and so on. As a new and inexperienced writer you might not realise that editing and revising your story is one of the most important parts of the writing process. James Thurber is quoted as saying “Don’t get it right, just get it written.”

But then what? Nobody, not even experienced writers get it right first time and so the next step after “just get it written”, is to go back, have a read and then be your own editor.

Start by doing nothing

If you have only just finished your first draft it’s a good idea to leave it for a few days (or even longer) before you start work on it again. You will then come back to it fresh and be able to read it more objectively. You are also more likely to spot the odd typo or mis-spelling or any other structural or grammatical errors. You may also come up with some new ideas or find a better way of expressing yourself.

Print a copy of your work

If you have typed your draft, print a copy for editing – it is very hard to do on-screen editing. So, armed with a paper copy and a red pen (or whatever colour you choose), you are ready to start the editing process. You may think editing is less creative that writing (which is sort of true) but it can also be satisfying and rewarding to be your own editor and improve and fine tune your work.

Read it out loud

The best type of writing sounds like you are speaking but without the colloquial bits. So, by reading it out loud, you will soon discover the parts which flow well, the parts where you find yourself gasping for breath because of an overlong sentence and the parts where you stumble because you have phrased something clumsily.  Above all, reading out loud gives you a sense of whether what you have written sounds like ‘you’ and also whether it holds your interest. If you start to yawn, just think how your readers will feel.

Ask a friend

Ask a friend or family member to read through your story. They don’t need to be experienced writers. All you need is someone who can tell you whether they have understood what you have written – they may even have some ideas on how you could improve or liven up your writing.

Be ruthless

Get rid of all unnecessary words, paragraphs, sentences – in fact anything that isn’t relevant to your story. Aim for shorter sentences (simply because they are easier to read) and make sure that each of your paragraphs has a single focal point. If you keep your writing focussed your readers won’t get lost and confused and they will take away the message or point you want to make.

If in doubt leave it out

Don’t be afraid to cut out any bits that you now think are irrelevant or boring – particularly the bits that your reader would probably prefer to skip. It is better to end up with a shorter story that your reader won’t want to put down than a long one they give up on.

Checking for spelling and grammar

Once you have edited and revised your work you are ready to check for typos, incorrect spellings and grammar. If you have a spelling and/or grammar checker in your word processing package, this is the quickest and easiest way of checking for spelling and grammar mistakes. However, don’t forget that a spelling checker will only pick up on misspelled words. It will not identify words you have misused but spelled correctly (for example, to instead of too, accept instead of except, of instead of off etc.). A spell checker may also have a problem with the correct use of apostrophes in words such as ‘it’s’ and ‘its’ and so don’t automatically take the spell checker’s recommendations.

You could try using one of the free online spelling and grammar checkers such as Grammarly, Hemingway App and After the Deadline. However, the most reliable form of editing is either done by you and/or by an independent proof reader or editor. A grammar checker is designed to recognise verbs, nouns, adjectives and other parts of speech so as it can identify passages that are awkward or incorrect but they are not foolproof. A grammar checker is useful as a guide but the best way to check your work is to ask someone else to do it for you. It is very hard to spot your own mistakes whereas someone who hasn’t seen your work before is much more likely to pick up on typos, grammatical errors etc..

Know when to stop editing

There will come a time when you have to say enough is enough. No matter how much editing you do, your work will never be perfect (this is unachievable) so know when it is time to stop the tweaking and fiddling and put it out there. I doubt any reader will be as severe a critic as you.

What next?

Click here to find out what you can do now that you have completed this course.

Back to Lesson 8