Back to the Comma Bucket: the Perils of Hasty Editing

A while ago I bemoaned the loss of a lot of edits when I copied an old version of a file over the new one instead of the other way around. Having to do all that editing over again meant that I did it at lightning speed, creating fresh new errors in the process. A few days ago I decided to have a quick read of Hunting the Phoenix, the ebook that was the object of all this editing, and discovered a few embarrassing mistakes — “was been” (from changing things like “had been” to “was”), missing words and punctuation and other instances of sloppy deletion.

So I turned my quick read into a slow one, finding and correcting perhaps a dozen of these small but irritating errors and picking off dozens of superfluous commas at the same time. Editing has been on my mind for a while, so this was a useful exercise in more ways than one.

Writers are constantly advised to hone their craft. Part of the honing process is learning how to edit. Yes, you can hire someone to do that, but it’s an essential writerly skill. Even if you choose not to edit your own writing, you can perhaps help someone else with theirs. (Just here I’ll throw out an observation that as far as I know there is no accrediting body for editors, so you can’t be sure that the person you hire is any better than you).

The order in which you do different kinds of editing is important. Don’t bother with line editing right after you’ve finished your first draft. Not even your second, third or fourth draft. Save it until you’re happy with the structure of your novel — the plot, the characters, the pacing, the way the scenes unfold. At that point it’s worthwhile to focus on grammar, punctuation, superfluous words and other niceties.

Now, after several more hours of intense and focussed work, I’m fairly sure I’ve corrected my errors without making new ones. The comma bucket is overflowing and I’m about to re-upload my Phoenix to fly unburdened into e-readers and imaginations.

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