Your Editing Tricks

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Your Editing Tricks

Postby Quill » 07 Dec 2010, 17:10

I'm talking about the nuts and bolts of manipulating the text. How do you keep track of changes? And your thoughts and ideas? Do you highlight? Use colored text? Do you create dump files for discarded phrases you may need later? Do you stick post-it notes to the shelf next to your screen? How do you organize?

Secondary, what is your editing philosophy?

My philosophy is this: All techniques will serve to make editing/revision/polishing FUN. Or at least take the stress and confusion as much as possible out of it. I look for techniques that allow me to be bold in revision, but safe, which means sane. I'm sure there are other aspects to my editing philosophy but this will serve as a start.

So far as tricks, here are some of mine:

1. I keep my chapters as separate files within a folder. I revise them consecutively. At the end of a draft, I make a copy of the folder and name the copy "draft 3" or whatever it will be. Then I repeat the process until done.

2. Within a chapter file If I remove a phrase or sentence I might want back, I cut/paste it to the end of the chapter. It's there and available for the next draft, but if I haven't used it by then, I delete it. If I really need it later I can go back and find it, but that rarely happens.

3. If I run into a paragraph I think I can write better, I enter a few lines and copy/paste the paragraph. I can work on the paragraph boldly this way, knowing I can easily go back to the original. If I think I can do better than my rewritten paragraph, I copy/paste the rewrite and try again. Sometimes I have up to four versions before I pick one.

If a paragraph is giving me particular headaches, I pull it apart, putting a line between sentences. I look at each sentence to see where the problem is, and toy with each on its own. I even pull sentences apart, and list alternate word or phrase choices, or order of words. Occasionally a paragraph will take up a whole manuscript page before I'm satisfied with how it reads. Then I can delete all the work page stuff, leaving only the jewel remaining.

Yeah, I'm a mad copy/paster when editing. It's my best trick.

4. I parenthesize. Especially in early drafts, I'll write the word I like (love) and then parenthesize my second (other) choice. Since my fiction prose contains no parenthesized words, parentheses are free to use for this trick, which I'd have to say is my second best trick.

5. I do colorize my text. Mostly in early revision drafts. Red is for stuff I'm thinking of deleting, whether soon, or in the next draft. Blue is for stuff I'm importing or exporting to or from other parts of the chapter or book. Green is for notes to myself, such as about what I need to do with characters or action. Purple I sometimes use for smokin' passages or words that don't yet have a home. It means "fit me in somewhere!"
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Re: Your Editing Tricks

Postby Down the well » 07 Dec 2010, 17:53

Quill wrote:Do you create dump files for discarded phrases you may need later?


I do this. Anytime I cut something I think I might want to use again -- a scene, a sentence I'm fond of, or maybe a piece of description I thought was done well, I'll cut and paste it to a dump file.

I only work in one main file, one that I constantly revise. I used to be afraid of making changes, but I've learned to be bold. Once I've decided to actually delete something, it's gone and I move on. But I also backup constantly to e-mail and a flashdrive so that I have multiple copies at various stages if I ever did need to go back and look at an earlier version -- which I don't really do, and even those copies get deleted after a month or so. I kind of view a WIP like a clay sculpture that I keep shaving away at until I get to the form inside that I'm looking for. When I think I see what I set out to produce I'm done. Until someone points out the detail in the back that I forgot to carve away.

I should add that I print the entire novel only for my final edit. I go through it with a red pen and then enter the changes into the computer page by page. Sort of gives me two final run-throughs.
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Re: Your Editing Tricks

Postby cheekychook » 07 Dec 2010, 18:15

I save each scene as a file in one folder, and I send each scene to a trusted beta as written (serves as my backup in case my computer and my flash drives all get destroyed at once). I save edited drafts as updated files. I can't even tell you how many versions of my complete novel I have. The folders now sound like I'm ordering an elaborate specialty coffee---instead of a half-caf-double-mocha-2%latte I have Final-edit-complete-ms-5th-version-new-first-chapter.

Then of course there are the times that I forget to change the file name noticeably and have to go through 28 versions before I find the one I am looking for (and sorting by date doesn't always work because sometimes I leave things open overnight and if my computer autosaves them then the date becomes the date of autosave rather than the date I last worked on it).

Oh, and when I say save, I mean save, as in forever. I am a pen and paper girl at heart and a total pack rat---I still have notes I passed with friends in grade school. I don't print out every version of every edit, but there are hard copies from varying stages and I never, ever, ever delete anything from the computer. Ever. Not to mention that I save every last bit that I write in long hand...and there's quite a bit of that as well.
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Re: Your Editing Tricks

Postby Aimée » 07 Dec 2010, 18:22

I have a whole second document, pretty much my outline, where I copy and paste things I might want to use later, along with notes on what I should add in certain chapters and stuff like that. And then I have my manuscript all in one big document. I don't like splitting it up into chapters for files because it feels disorganized. Some of your techniques are very interesting. I never thought of doing a side by side rewrite with paragraphs like that. What I do is just the regular way, I suppose. Print it out, go over it with a red pen, type in the changes. Lather, rinse, repeat. I might have to try some new things as my way is pretty boring and tedious.
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Re: Your Editing Tricks

Postby polymath » 07 Dec 2010, 18:38

I call the repository of my favorite lines that don't make it into a finished draft a clip file. I've got a subdirectory folder named clip file. Another named notes file with sketches and trial drafting of parts and reference sources, urls and books, etc. Another named drafts file. Another named working for each narrative I work on. And all related to one working title under a subdirectory heading named after the working title. all except the working file is in ASCII text format I.e.;

Writ (parent directory)
NextGreatGlobalNovel
  Working
  Draft
  Notes
  Clips

My sense of editing varies from that of rewriting and revising, though. Editing in two veins, copyediting and developmental editing. Copyediting for nondiscretionary by my mechanical style concerns and developmental editing for unbridgeable gaps, weak storyline, small picture and big picture plot concerns, and so on.

Rewriting is a word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, and so on process where I evaluate for conciseness and structure. I rewrite at will once I realize a narrative isn't unifying coherently or doesn't rise to the occasion.

My first draft is typically more refined than just writing as it comes to me. Once I've finished the draft is when I revise, again, word-by-word and so on. In part why that works for me is because I have a complete picture of the literal story and can then prospect for overlooked figurative meaning that's hovering backstage and might do with a bit of foregrounding. Plus voice inconsistencies or confusing attitude changes and other voice structural and aesthetic concerns.

My first draft is more a snapshot of a story than a ready to print picture. I more often add to than subtract from a draft. I intend first drafts to record major plot points, then I fill in as needed what's needed for clarity and consciseness. I usually have some idea of approximate length before I begin writing, knowing a target length and evaluating for plot magnitude gives me that estimation. I draft with a seventy percent goal in mind, knowing I'll add at least twenty percent in rewrites and revisions, dividing it up into quarters, introductions, character, setting, complication, narrative point of view and the beginning act up through a completed inciting crisis, second quarter rising action and minor reversals and discoveries, climax halfway point, followed by a tragic crisis, third quarter falling action, finishing with a final crisis leading setting up the fourth quarter denouement.

Once I've been over and over a narrative, I print it out and go over it with a fine toothed comb for final revisions. Mostly moving around blocks of text for stronger arrangement.
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Re: Your Editing Tricks

Postby cheekychook » 07 Dec 2010, 18:39

I once "lost" a whole big scene I wrote. l looked everywhere. Absolutely couldn't find it. Finally gave up and rewrote it from scratch. Found it about a week later (totally wrong part of my computer)---it was almost word for word.

I also recently stumbled across the notebook where many years ago I'd scribbled the character descriptions and a few paragraphs of a few scenes for my novel. I'd had the idea in my head for a long time, but never had the motivation to write it all until this year---I'd been missing a final seed of inspiration that I finally found last January. When I read back over my long-lost notes I was shocked to find that the initial character description of my main character had remained exactly the same, right down to his mannerisms. And the brief scene I'd written years earlier in a notebook at a cafe was almost identical to the same scene (where the two main characters meet) that appears in my final version.

When things like that happen I know those are the scene/words/dialogue I shouldn't edit too much---sometimes (though rarely) things come out right (or almost right) the first time. Part of editing is learning to recognize when those times are. It's not always about making changes, knowing what not to change is just as important.
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Re: Your Editing Tricks

Postby cheekychook » 07 Dec 2010, 18:44

And while I monopolize the thread I'll add that when I am really editing and have done all I can while reading in the proper order I go back through and read the whole thing in reverse---sentence by sentence (not word by word). I find that very useful for catching things I miss when reading straight on, as intended. I'd make a joke about having spent too much time listening to albums backwards but I don't want to date myself... *cough*
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Re: Your Editing Tricks

Postby Holly » 07 Dec 2010, 18:48

Lots of good comments. I intend to go back and read every one.

My editing tricks:

(1) I retyped my entire novel by hand. Yes, I know, that sounds nuts. It's way, way easier to eyeball the text and tinker with it as you go. However, when I retyped it, I said things in a much better way. I swear by this one.

(2) Get to the point. Don't be a crappist. If I can say it in two words instead of twenty, I will say it in two words. I assume my readers all want to watch TV or Youtube and are just waiting to trash my stuff.

(3) Be natural.
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Re: Your Editing Tricks

Postby Watcher55 » 07 Dec 2010, 19:13

cheekychook wrote:And while I monopolize the thread I'll add that when I am really editing and have done all I can while reading in the proper order I go back through and read the whole thing in reverse---sentence by sentence (not word by word). I find that very useful for catching things I miss when reading straight on, as intended. I'd make a joke about having spent too much time listening to albums backwards but I don't want to date myself... *cough*


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My WIP is a file titled, REVISED REVISIONS because it started out as several disconnected “chapters” that I eventually copy and pasted into one main file. The originals, numbered I to XVII, now live in the “useful trash” file. As the work grows I go back and read the manuscript to check for continuity, slice off the parts that don’t fit and rewrite them using a Dixon, Ticonderoga #2 soft black pencil (95% of the manuscript was written in pencil first) then type them in a separate doc – copy and paste into RR. The sliced off part goes in the useful trash folder.

Now that I’m getting close to the end, I’ve been highlighting the parts that lack the polish they need. I’m finding that my editing process doesn’t change the word count very much because I’m one of those writers who will spend 20 minutes deciding whether I should use “and” or “but”. I'm also a lot like Holly; two words are better than twenty.
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Re: Your Editing Tricks

Postby Fenris » 07 Dec 2010, 20:10

I'm with cheeky on the "editing backward" trick, though I did that first. Other than that, I'm pretty boring as far as editing methods go. Scan, find mistake, edit, move on, find mistake, edit, etc. Once I reach the end, I go back and do it again. I haven't printed it out yet, though I might try that sometime. I've heard it helps, and everyone here seems to do it, so I suppose it can't be a bad idea.

I keep old drafts as well, but they're literally that--drafts. No chapter separation, just the entire MS plus X edits. I'm on draft 3 now, though it's become a bit more amorphous recently as I gather crit partners (it's probably really draft 6 or 7 by now, but I keep my crit partners' critiques in different files, and in them the MS is separated into sections, so...). I guess I do need to go back and organize, but I'm still managing to keep track of things. As for backing up files, I use email. That way I don't have to worry about losing my thumb drive--wherever there is a computer, my email will be too.
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Re: Your Editing Tricks

Postby Cookie » 07 Dec 2010, 20:12

I color code my revisions. I have three colors to show each stage of revision, so I can see what I did the day before. I rotate the colors, and when I come back to the first one, I make all the older text black like the rest of the MS. As far as stuff I am thinking of deleting, I highlight it. I never save older copies. Once I decide to get rid of it, it is gone. I know I won't be going back to it, there was a reason I deleted it in the first place. I also work from one copy that I am constantly revising (hence the colors).
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Re: Your Editing Tricks

Postby CharleeVale » 07 Dec 2010, 21:19

I use scrivener, which allows me to A LOT of backwards data without alot of documents.

It allows me to take 'snapshots' of a chapter, in case I want to change something back, which I do for every chapter, every draft.

I keep a file for deleted lines, and one for entirely deleted scenes.

But most importantly -- I CANNOT EDIT ON SCREEN -- I absolutely must have a physical copy to edit a chapter. I print it out, use any color that's not black, and edit away. Arrows, inserts, cuts, everything. *This also allows me to edit when I'm not supposed to, like when I'm in lecture* I then enter them into the computer, and do further edits along with them, just in case I was falling asleep and cut half the chapter. :P

After I input the edits I get rid of the hardcopy. I don't need to save it when I have the 'snapshots,' Scrivener saves my life from drowning in paper!

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Re: Your Editing Tricks

Postby Sommer Leigh » 08 Dec 2010, 06:36

I use a program called Liquid Story Binder that has a lot of editing tools built into it. I also keep each chapter as a separate "document", though I should mention that a separate document in Liquid Story Binder is not the same thing as a separate document in word. It is hard to explain.

So each chapter has its own document and after I finish writing or editing or working on a chapter, I export it as an .rtf onto my flash drive. On my flash drive I keep each chapter edits with file names as: 1.0.rtf, 1.1.rtf, 1.2.rtf (this would be for chapter 1) and when I go through and do a major editing or change or chapter addition/deletion, I start a new draft folder, dated, and begin with 1.0 again. It sounds complicated and because of this filing system I have hundreds and hundreds of draft files on my flash drive, but this way I don't really have to save lines I cut because I still have the version. I''ve got a pretty good contextural memory so finding the version I need isn't as hard as it might sound.

As far as editing goes, like I said, Liquid Story Binder has editing tools built in. One of my favorites is a tool that looks through every chapter for the most commonly used words and instead of opening each chapter to change something, I can change the wording right from the search screen. It also has line editing tools and comment tools so I can leave myself notes and edits that are stored separate from the document in a different color and you can make them disappear if you need them to and you can export or print with or without those notes.

I also use wordle.net to find overused words.

I think I've mentioned this before, but when I write I edit heavily as I go. So for example, I write chapter 6and then I go back and read chapter 1-6 before starting chapter 7. When I finish chapter 7 I start over reading chapter 1-7 before going on to chapter 8. Sometimes I'll write chapter 8 and 9 before going back to chapter 1. While I'm reading I make edits. This helps to make early chapters more polished but it helps me discover plot problems before they become problems. I get a good feeling for the rhythm of the story and I can shift information and scenes around very easily this way. It also means I am a slow writer but I end up spending a lot less time editing and rewriting after each draft than most.

If I ever get stuck on a scene or chapter that is just killing me, I stop trying to make it fit and I imagine it proceeding in a different way. I'll change which characters are in the scene, where the scene is located, or what the character's goals are. Even if I don't keep the reimagining, it usually helps me figure out why the original version isn't working.
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Re: Your Editing Tricks

Postby PhilipIsles » 12 Dec 2010, 12:45

I posted my advice on How to Backup Your Manuscript earlier this week, if you're interested :)
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Re: Your Editing Tricks

Postby Louise Curtis » 12 Dec 2010, 15:00

My editing philosophy is "it's never done". A part of me loves it when a publisher takes absolutely ages to reply (a big publisher has had one of my books for over a year and a half. . . but who's counting?), because when* they reject it, it's like a present that I get to dive into editing. . . especially when they give comments.

Right now I'm editing last year's nanonovel. I did about five drafts last year and thought it was pretty good (and had a beta look at it too), then the first publisher I sent it to basically said, "Really good, but doesn't make sense" and I realised the magical rules weren't clear, and needed a complete rethink. I left it alone for about six months, then figured out a better magic system, put it into the book in one draft, and kept editing, ready to send it off at the end of this year.

I'm having a WONDERFUL time re-immersing myself in the book. I'm entering it in a competition (Terry Pratchett something something) that required it to be about 30,000 words longer (than the original 50) so I added about 17,000 in new chapters, and I'm confident the rest will magically appear through editing (adding depth and sensory detail to existing scenes always makes them longer, even when I cut the bad bits). As I write, it's at 71,000, and I've barely started the close edit.

The first thing I did was do a basic go-through, with chapter-by-chapter notes keeping track of the plot, what characters look like, and the injuries of the characters (it has a short time-span, so someone who sprains their ankle in chapter one will still be limping at the end). I put injuries in orange, and things to change in red (eg. "Danny is mad at Amy for charging armed police and other risky behaviours - discuss it this chapter").

Then I looked at the structure and added all the new chapters in places I thought they fit. Then I did another full rough edit, noting on paper the way the five plot lines develop (columns and numbers), and exactly how many days it all takes (so I can add a ticking clock, and keep track of whether something happens on a Monday or a Saturday). I put marks next to the weakest chapters so I know to spend extra time on them.

Now that the structure is sound, I'm going through just one or two chapters in a day, trying to make each one spectacular with sensory detail and tension, while also making sure at least two plotlines increase in tension (and various other edit-y things). And I have another bit of paper with maps of all physical areas. Three chapters are on a crit forum on another site, and if I have time I'll get my partner to do a full-book edit (he's off work between xmas and new year's so that should be good).

So I have one physical file of notes, and three pieces of paper, all of which I'll throw away at the end of this - so next time, I have no preconceived notions of what a chapter is about.

When the close edit is done, I'll spell check and then do a final read-through just to check things are in order before sending it off.

*technically "if", but so far it's "when"
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