Proofing and Editing: Five Tips to Keep You Focused

I’ve been fairly quiet on the blogging front this month – sorry about that! I do want to give Kat a big shout out for her guest post – it seems you guys really liked it and I’m super happy about that! Hopefully I’m going to have more for you all later in the year.

So, why have I been quiet? Well, as you guys probably know, I’ve been working on my novella for the last year or so but the last two-three months has seen me ramp it up and keep on with the editing and proofing of it, getting it to this stage where it’s almost ready to submit! Exciting stuff!

It’s got me thinking though; editing is often seen as the most boring and tedious parts of writing – and I agree to an extent. So, I’m going to share some of my top tips to get you through it without losing any quality. Aren’t you guys lucky?

You can thank me later.

Don’t read off a screen

Okay, I’m not going to lie that I’ve never been a fan of reading on a screen and e-readers in the past, I often find my eyes glaze over after a while and I have to go back and re-read things. The same is true for editing; it’s so easy to miss things on a screen compared to being on paper.

So, my first tip is to print it off and read a physical copy. You will be able to focus easier and your eyes won’t get tired as quick, which is a massive help.

As a side note, I think e-readers, Kindles and tablets in general have gotten a lot better over the years – especially the ones designed to mimic paper – and I do have one myself but not for editing purposes and I still prefer a good old fashioned book!

Use a pen and get messy

Following on from my last point, if you have a printed or hard copy you can make notes as and when you spot them. So many of my old drafts are literally covered in notes in all different pen colours (I have so many around that I use whichever one comes to hand first) and I use these notes to help me make changes in future drafts.

Never lose these drafts because you might want to look back to your old versions later to see the changes you’ve made and be sure they work better. Whether you keep digital copies or hard copies – or both – doesn’t matter. Make a note of everything, it’ll make you a better writer each time you edit something.

Be ruthless

This is probably the hardest part for many writers; deciding what exactly to take out, change or add. I’m not going to lie to you guys, it isn’t easy – and there isn’t a definitive right or wrong answer. Sorry.

In the end, you’ll have to decide what works best. The beauty of writing on word processor or similar program is that changes aren’t final (and this is why you should always keep your drafts somewhere safe).

To keep it simple though, if you have any doubts about a particular word, sentence, paragraph or entire section – get rid of it. You might need only small changes to make it work but you’ll know this straight away. Whatever the specific part is you have doubts about, remove it and see how it works. You can then add something else in. Don’t be afraid to try new things, it’s how we learn and grow as writers.

Set realistic targets

This is also really important. Unless you have a full day, don’t say to yourself you’re going to proof and edit 5,000 words every day – it won’t work. If, like me, you have a job to manage too, work out what’s manageable but make sure you have breaks where you put it aside for the day/night.

My latest project had chapters of around 2,000 words. The first few edits I did 1,000 words a night or so. By the final edits I was doing an entire chapter but I was only picking up final mistakes and changes – nowhere near as much as the early stages.

Editing is mentally exhausting – more so than the actual writing. There’s less creativity and more focus and thought so you need to take that into account. If you have other responsibilities, maybe make it 500 a night or even say 30 minutes. You might come back to it later that night and do another 30 but these are bite size chunks you can handle without sacrificing your focus and quality.

Reward yourself

Finally, give yourself a break every now and then. Watch an episode of your favourite show, some chocolate, buy a little gift (I stress little or you’ll be bankrupt in no time) or something that you can enjoy before getting back to work. Every time you meet your targets, do this and you’ll be more inclined to do it again.

Even if you don’t meet your targets in that period of time, make sure the rewards are there. Give yourself an EXTRA reason to do this on top of getting your writing done. It will help, trust me.

Obviously, this is by no means exhaustive so please share your own tips and methods if you have them. These are just the main thoughts I keep in mind and work to when it comes to the editing stage of any project. Happy editing!

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