The editing process can be harrowing and to a writer it can feel like every movement of the Red Pen is a cut against your own heart. However, Blake Morrison makes an astute observation:
Editing might be a bloody trade.
But knives aren’t the exclusive property of butchers.
Surgeons use them too.
Editing can be a bloody trade indeed. Tears can be shed and the lives of commas lost, but there is an art to editing. A good editor is a surgeon – they remove the problems with a skilful slice, leave the arteries intact and ensure vital organs remain functioning and, in the best case scenario, function better when the editing is done.
1. The Bare Essentials
Revise punctuation. Check your use of commas and semicolons, and all the other little darlings that might make inappropriate appearances or startling disappearances – if in doubt, look up the correct use online (there are ample resources) or ask someone.
Check your spelling. Don’t be lazy when it comes to re-reading your work to check for spelling and don’t rely on spellcheck. You’re about to ask people to take the time to read your work – if you can’t be bothered doing it to check for basic errors, why do you expect others to do it for pleasure?
Double-check your paragraphs. The general rule for paragraphs is to start a new paragraph for a new topic or change in event, and to start a new paragraph when a new person speaks. Contemporary writing gives us a bit more lenience when it comes to new paragraphs and sometimes single sentences can be their own paragraph. Don’t overdo it and do ensure your new paragraphs are deserving of the new line.
2. Essential Style
Regardless of how well you’ve used apostrophes of possession, if your writing style is inconsistent or the content lacks quality, no amount of grammatical revision will save you. Ask yourself the following questions:
What makes my story interesting? Is it the unusual plot or fascinating characters? How might you revise it to make it compelling?
Does it make sense? Are the plot and characters plausible?
Are my characters solid? Can they exist outside of the story? Would they survive in the ‘real world’ or are they lacking in core components that make them human?
Does my writing flow? Are there missing explanations or have you over-complicated simple events?
Throughout all of this, I encourage you give your work to others to read, too. They will pick up on errors you didn’t notice and ask questions that help you re-examine your work with a fresh perspective. As writers, our work is never really finished, simply abandoned (as observed by Leonardo da Vinci). By carefully editing your work, you can at least be sure it has been abandoned with the best chances possible.