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General musings

Thoughts on Editing

Editing one's own writing is surprisingly difficult.

Catching spelling, punctuation or grammatical errors is relatively simple. Modern software helps, of course, as does experience as a reader. After spending enough time with one's nose in a book, a poorly crafted sentence will often 'feel' wrong...even if it is difficult to identify exactly what the problem is. 

The greater difficulty -- for me, at least -- lay in identifying areas in which more (or less) explanation is needed for a scene to flow smoothly. The problem, I think, is that the author knows every last bit of the backstory. The author knows what he or she meant to say even if the words haven't made it to the page.

Harder still is identifying plot flaws. Was a hint offered to the reader early enough? Was the McGuffin’s position mentioned explicitly, or only implied? Did a conversation between character X and character Y occur on-page, or was it accidentally removed when chapter 12 was re-written? Etc., etc.

So...yeah. It's arduous work, and it's remarkably easy to overlook important stuff. Finding a second (or third, or fourth) pair of eyes to help with the process is incredibly helpful. For any authors that read this, the point cannot be stressed enough: if at all possible, find others that you can rely upon.

(If my pre-readers are seeing this, know that I have treasured every word of your feedback. Thank you!)

And yet...far too many evenings, I end up alone...staring at my manuscript, straining to mold my prose into shape. I am sure most authors do; editing is hard, but leaving the manuscript alone is even harder.

So, to those authors...One piece of advice that you've probably heard before and dismissed because it sounds like won't work:

Lately, I’ve found that reading my work out loud seems to help. Having the words roll off my tongue forces a different perspective; the sound itself seems to spark a different portion of my thought process. I don’t know that this would work for every author…I only know that it works for me and that I’m grateful for having tried it. My first novel is in its final editing process, and I am finally beginning to feel genuinely confident about the book's quality.

Long story short: If you happen to meet me at an upcoming sci-fi con and I’m covered in scratches, it’s probably because I’ve been reading to my cat. She may be deaf but she’s a harsh critic.

David Reiss