Weekend WIP #3: Copy Editing (for Content)

DSEditTCThursday night, after 3 weeks ‘in the drawer’, I took Planes Shifter out and began to read through it – with a new ally: Track Changes.

This is a tool I’ve avoided because it’s not particularly elegant, cuts your writing into a small column and only uses one colour.. But I managed to tweak it (even in Word 2003, you can make the “deleted” bubbles purple) and braced myself for a bunch of red text.

Turns out, the tool I couldn’t get on with a couple of years back is fairly helpful. I’ve completed a pass on chapter 1, and have patches of clear black text between the bubbles of doom. But tools like these are only an aid to a clear editing process.

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I’ve edited some incarnation of this story 6 or 7 times; each time finding huge plot holes that required extensive changes. During the re-write, I kept maybe 15% of the previous draft, and plotted it very carefully to avoid the same issue reoccurring. However, this means that the current edit requires new things — I haven’t been this close to a completed, well-rounded tale before; and am now having to worry about details I have skimmed over in previous edits.

Copy Editing

The first block was ‘where to start?‘ Thankfully, the people of twitter had some great suggestions.

In theory, this edit is a read-through, compiling a “what’s wrong/right with this as a story?” list. I’m taking notes on big changes needed and writing down the key elements to check the order of events still works, while also doing a brief spelling/grammar check.

But as I began reading the first page, I found myself in copy-edit mode; trying to make the flow of the sentences better and tweaking the words I’d chosen. One of my weaknesses in early drafts is sentence structure: every sentence takes one of three ‘patterns’ and is usually 14 words long. I’ve learned that it’s very hard for me to skim past these sentences without trying to improve them, even in the initial read-through.

That isn’t necessarily a negative — this is part of being a writer where I can learn about my writing style. Editing is where we do the learning, and for me, is where the most experience in our writing is called upon. However, there are legitimate comments that it’s a wasted exercise: I may spend an hour getting a scene written well, only to find later that I need to cut it out.

But, as I find it tricky to step back, and more editing will (hopefully) help me learn to edit better, I choose to continue. Maybe it’ll lead to first drafts with better sentences in the future.

How do you approach the first edit of a draft?

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