I’m sometimes asked by writers, “What is your editing process?”
As I think about the question, it occurs to me that, I believe, editing someone else's work is easier than editing my own. And it's not because I don't have a stake in the other author's work. Actually, I do. I want to help the author make the manuscript the best book it can be. I want the writer to understand why I mark or change things so he’ll be able to catch his mistakes on his own next time. I want to hold the published book in my hand and be excited about its publication.
It's easier because, basically, I didn't write it. When I start reading, I have no idea what will happen as the story evolves. I have no clue what the finale will be. I don't know the characters or their backgrounds or their relationships. Therefore, lots of things that would slip by the author stand out to me. I catch them -- or hopefully I catch the majority of them.
I have to have quiet -- no music, no distractions. Around my house that means I often have to close the door to my office. I've even been known to wear headphones or earplugs.
I usually take a break about every hour - to stretch, get something to eat if I'm hungry, refill my water glass, or go outside to see the sun -- or all of the above.
I not only make comments on the document itself, I make notes for myself on a notepad.
Once I've read through the manuscript, I let it sit -- at least over night before I begin the second or third read-through.
For me, editing for others involves an almost clinical approach. I can't get caught up in the words or plot too much or I could read thirty pages before I realized I hadn't been paying "editorial" attention. By the third reading, I can let go and not read word for word, but read for the overall feeling of the book.
How do you edit your own work?
Helen Ginger is a freelance editor and book consultant, with an informational and interactive blog for writers and a free weekly e-newsletter that has gone out to subscribers around the globe for ten years. She coaches writers on the publishing industry, finding an agent, and polishing their work for publication. You can also follow her on Twitter.