Editing Without Intent

What’s the first thing you do when you sit down to edit?

Print out your pages, maybe. Open a new document, perhaps. Break out the red pen and highlighters, or the coloured on-screen highlighting.

And then you Attack. You begin at the first sentence and make your way through, fixing things as you go.

Process sound familiar? Maybe some of you work this way, maybe some of you don’t – but it’s a method I hear pretty often. Start at the beginning, fix the sentences as you go, and work your way through to the end.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think this method works.

Oh, sure, you end up with a cleaner manuscript than when you started, and no doubt you’ll fix a lot of problems along the way. But this, my friends, is Editing Without Intent.

When you’re learning to drive, instructors often tell you to keep your eyes on the road, not on the oncoming traffic. Why? Because you tend to steer where you’re looking.

You travel in the direction that you’re aiming.

Same thing applies to editing: you end up where you aim.

So the first thing you do when you sit down to edit should be to ask yourself three questions, question that you need to take your time answering, and answer as fully as you possibly can.

1) What you wanted

What was I intending when I wrote this story? What was it that sparked the idea? What was the heart of it, that thing that made me want to write it? How did I plan this story to be?

2) What you got

What actually is the story you ended up with? What does it actually look like, in all its rough and unedited glory? No ‘I meant this’, or ‘Oh, but I’ll fix that’ – what does it look like right now, at this moment, WITHOUT you having touched it?

3) What you want now

You know what you wanted. You know what you ended up with. Probably, there is a gap between the two – sometimes larger, sometimes smaller. You know what needs to change to turn what you have into what you wanted – but is what you wanted still what you want? Drafting can produce wonderful twists and turns that take the story in directions you never thought of. So, bearing in mind what you HAVE, what do you now WANT?

You can only hit a target you can see.

Know what you’re trying to acheive when you set out to edit, and fix the big stuff first. Line edits is for after the plot and characters are shiny 🙂

Edit, dear writers, with intent.

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