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What I should be doing right now is editing.

Except that I would rather spend my time being creative – the number of ideas I have far outweighs the time I have to explore them. Besides that, editing feels slow and tedious. Also, there’s an annoying (yet super cute) little white kitten continually jumping into my lap and demanding attention. If that were not enough, it’s Sunday, and around here, that’s laundry day. In a few minutes, the buzzer will go off, and I’ll have to go downstairs and move clothes from the washer to the dryer.

I know what your thinking. I live a life of unending excitement.

And this is just the start. With almost no effort, I could invent many more excuses to avoid editing. When it comes down to it, I can find lots of Reasons Not To do whatever. Editing happens to be my current target and the eventual topic of this blog. Before I get there, though, I feel that it’s important to talk about this nemesis of productivity Reasons Not To… 

Finding Reasons Not To is why I didn’t get serious about writing and publishing until 2016, even though I’d been talking about it since the mid-90s. And I’d be willing to bet it’s why many people let weekend projects, hobbies, and dreams fall by the wayside. I get it. Surfing the internet, watching YouTube videos, playing with pets, and arguing with sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigots on social media is fun, if ultimately pointless. The trap is that Reasons Not To can go on for decades, and without realizing it, they become Reasons I Didn’t, also known as Regrets.

Instead of looking for Reasons Not To, try to make time for these important things and get them done. It’s up to you to make the things you want happen.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about editing – or more precisely, why finishing that current writing project doesn’t mean that you’re done. If you’ve spent any time writing, you already know that the word finish can be very misleading. To finish something is to bring it to an end or completion. Sure, I finished the most recent story on which I’m working, but that doesn’t mean I’m done with it. Yes, it feels good to write the ending, and I don’t want to take anything away from that. It’s just that after finishing, whether or not you hire an editor, the work is going to need some Polish – this is something with which I very much struggle.

Before the story can be published, it has to be polished. Yes, this means looking for misspellings, inconsistencies, overused adverbs, and the dreaded passive voice. These are the things that most editors and beta readers will catch. But there are bigger things, like sentence and story structure, pacing, development, a willingness to cut, and so many others – we’ll get back to all of this in a minute.

Spelling and grammar are a part of polishing, but editing is far more involved. A solid edit includes things like:

  • rewriting this one part, so it flows a little better
  • or reworking the dialogue, changing a line to better build character
  • and adding a few more descriptors or a metaphor to describe this scene or that feeling better
  • maybe cutting something that seemed cool but slows everything down in the middle of the action
  • ooh, and I could expand this scene to be more impactful
  • or add this subplot to foreshadow this other event
  • and so on…

Wait, when did editing turn into rewriting? Does this mean I have to go back and polish it again? How did this kitten get into my lap?

/sigh

And that’s my struggle, but for as much those examples devolved into a series of random thoughts, there is a process to polishing. Even when working with an editor, these are things that will make you a better writer. Remember, everything you finish is the First Draft until it’s polished. Here are some things you could do to polish your story:

Be Aware of Structure. Whether it’s sentence length, line breaks, narrative flow, foreshadowing, or dialogue, if something doesn’t feel right, this is a good place to start. A poorly structured work will throw everything else off for a reader. Don’t be afraid to break things up and move them around. 

Cut It. All too often, as writers, we desperately want to include everything that we’ve written, going so far as to convince ourselves that it’s necessary to the story. There’s a common term or it, overwriting. If you’ve reworked or restructured something a few times and it still doesn’t feel right, cut it.

Show, don’t Tell. A first draft allows you to set a scene without necessarily offering a lot of information to the reader. Adding details gives the reader the opportunity to see it, and you the chance to distinguish characters by cleaning up dialogue or adding some fun foreshadowing elements. The more you show, the more engaged your reader will be.

Get the Beginning Right. Engaging the reader from the start is essential. A miss here can kill interest in the story. A great deal of time needs to be spent at the beginning of the story, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be the first thing on which you work. The structure and details can provide the perspective to write a great beginning. Speaking of which…

Perspective. As a writer, it’s important to give yourself a little distance before you start to polish. This could be setting it aside for a little while to work on something else, saving it in a different format, like a PDF to read on a tablet, or just moving to a different room or location. And always try to read the story aloud – it’s more difficult to skip over missed words and easier to spot nonsensical phrases.

I know, we didn’t touch on common errors like using cliches or jargon, rambling dialogue or details, and the dreaded passive voice, but polish those away too.

Alright, enough Reasons Not To. I’m going to get back to editing.

Come back for a new writing topic in two weeks

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