Thoughts on Editing

The August SCBWI Ireland meet-up focused on editing as the main topic. Children’s author Paula Leyden has written an article on editing, and we are pleased to be able to present it here in its entirely.

Thoughts on Editing by Paula Leyden

I was prompted to write this after reading the post by Colleen on the SCBWI Ireland Facebook page (very informative report on your meet-up – you covered a lot of topics!)

A number of thoughts on the editing process.

There are the two main categories to look at here – your own editing prior to submitting your manuscript to a publisher or agent, and professional editing done by an editor within a publishing house.

Personal editing

Your own editing process is very personal (as seen in the SCBWI discussion).  Some people prefer to just write a first draft as it comes to them and edit afterwards. I find myself unable to do that – I edit as I write, because I find it hard to move onto the next sentence if I am unhappy with the current one. So, for me, writing by hand or turning off my internal editor would not work.

  • The first rule here is ‘Be Brutal’.
  • The second rule is ‘Read Aloud’.

There is nothing that works better during your own editing process than reading your work aloud to yourself. You hear errors far quicker than you see them. This is one of the most valuable parts of being in a writers group as you get the chance to read aloud to others.

  •  The third rule is ‘Write regularly and consistently’.

If you just dip in and out of a story, it shows. Your voice is not consistent, the story jumps about, you forget where you were. The flow is interrupted and it shows. I have been guilty of this myself, and when I re-read a manuscript I have left halfway, I can see it.

A word of advice here for anyone submitting manuscripts to agents or publishing houses (and this has been said a million times before): edit, then edit again, then re-edit. Make your manuscript as good as it can be. The same would apply to people self-publishing – I might be an intolerant reader, but I become extremely frustrated when I’m reading a book and I come across typos, grammatical errors, and spelling mistakes. This should not happen.

Professional editing

Then comes the second stage, editing with a professional . Suddenly your beloved, tightly (self) edited manuscript comes back to you with all sorts of suggestions.  During this initial broad edit, an outside, fresh eye is being cast upon your story structure, your point of view, the voice, the themes, the characters. This is the kind of editing that asks the question ‘is this working?’. This is the scary phase.

Once that is sorted (you hope), then comes the line edit. Again, your even tighter, even more beloved manuscript now comes back with either red lines and squiggles all over it or marked changes in your Word doc. Often it looks much worse than it is, and this phase can be approached fairly practically – accepting or rejecting changes as you see fit.

The most important part of this process is that you and your editor trust one another well enough to work together, and respect one another enough for you to be able to disagree as well as agree. If you have that kind of relationship, your story will end up in a better place. A much better place.

If you have no professional editor, then what you need is your primary reader (and the two are not exclusive, I am lucky enough to have both), someone who will read, comment, edit, and make suggestions without fear or favour. Someone whose opinion you value and whose comments will not offend you.

In fact, throughout this process what you have to tuck into your back pocket is your pride. In saying this, I am not suggesting you should not still be proud of your creation, quite the contrary, but make a decision right at the start that you will not take offence. Because if you are going to be mortally wounded by comments on your book, you are in the wrong business.

So, buckle up and enjoy the ride because, when all is said and done, the editing process can be almost as much fun as the initial writing process – what you are doing is getting a second, third, and fourth chance to tighten up your manuscript. Once this is done and you put in place the final full stop, your satisfaction will hopefully be immeasurable!

About Paula Leyden

Paula’s first children’s novel The Butterfly Heart was shortlisted for the 2012 Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year and won the Eilis Dillon Award for best first book. A follow-up book is to be published early in 2013. You can find out more about Paula and her books at her website. Paula is also on Facebook.


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