Thursday, March 7, 2013

Edit Your Way to Better Writing

Edit Your Way to Better Writing

By Lisa Bouchard

We all know editing our own work will make it better, but that’s not what I mean. Editing other people’s writing will also improve our own.

I’ve been working for Novel Concept Publishing (link to since last October and I’ve just got my fifteenth (I think?) novel to edit last week. I’m editing about one novel a month and for me and that’s a great pace. I can take my time to really think about what’s going on in the book but I still have enough time to get my own work done.

Here’s my dirty little secret–when I took this job I had never edited one of my own novels. In fact, I had only edited one full novel (although lots of individual chapters and short stories). I could not work up the emotional fortitude to look at my work critically and then make it better. Of course, this was a major stumbling block in my writing career. Knowing my first drafts sucked but not being able to progress in any way has left me with a file full of lousy first drafts that I can barely look at.

I’m still learning every day and the greatest benefit of the job is I’m also halfway done editing my own novel. It’s much less painful than the last time I attempted editing. I credit this radical change in perspective to my work with Novel Concept.

What have I learned so far?

1)      Everyone says their first drafts suck, but who’s going to believe an author who publishes great work? You just know their writing flows perfectly from brain through fingers to keyboard. Now I know how much work can (and must) be done to fix an early draft to really make it shine. It’s not a trivial amount of work, but it’s manageable.

2)      I have gained a lot of emotional distance from writing. Easy when it’s not your writing, but the distance has translated into my own as well. They’re just words and they can be changed. In fact, between the edits I make and the edits that came before me I suspect more words were changed or moved than not.

3)      When editing I don’t just say something is wrong, I try to explain why and offer suggestions. This makes me think much harder than I am inclined to with my own work, where I am writing as fast as I can to get the story out. Paying attention to someone else’s craft is starting to rub off on my own.

These are some impressive fringe benefits from the job, but I haven’t mentioned the one thing I never thought was possible. I get paid to read. Had I known this was an actual job when I was a kid trying to read my way through the town’s public library my whole life plan would have been different.

So get out there and edit! There are plenty of places out there where you can get some experience. I can recommend The Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror (link to, but there are lots of others as well. If you’re familiar with other sites to get some editing experience, let us know in the comments.

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