The Editing Process and How to Make It Work for You

Writers have a love/hate relationship with editing. I assume it stems from our fear of rejection. We pour our heart and soul into a piece. No matter what it is. A novel, essay, blog, poem. We steal time away from our already busy lives to work on it. Then we send it out into the world. Before that happens, however, we put it through rounds and rounds of edits.

Though an official editor will look over a piece prior to publication, writers become temporary editors. And boy, are we our worst critics.

How can something we loved during the drafting stage end up with so much red ink all over it?

We all know the answer: to make it stronger.

As much as we would love to punch out a masterpiece on the first draft, editing is part of the game. We can’t avoid it and we can’t skip it. What we can do is create an editing system that’s not so cut and dry. Ditch the red pen! You should be excited to edit because you’re about to make your writing better.

Bring some color into the mix. Make it fun to look at. All that red will no doubt drive you crazy. I couldn’t stand it. So, I changed it up.

Here’s a peek at my editing process.

I barely use a red pen anymore. I’ve switched to using pencil. And I mean a regular pencil, not a red pencil.

I find when I’m rewriting a sentence, paragraph, scene, etc, I tend to start writing something, erase it, rewrite it again. Rather than have more scratches and cross offs in red, I’m able to erase, which saves space on the page.

But before I start rewriting, I read through the piece. Highlighters at the ready, I color code corrections using the following system:

  • Yellow = awkward sentence structure; run-on sentence
  • Pink = words ending in -ly
  • Green = words ending in -ing
  • Blue = words to spellcheck
  • Purple = areas to show, not tell
  • Orange = things to fact check

You’re going to end up with a bunch of colorful pages. But I’d rather look at a colorful rainbow than a horde of red markers any day.

Color coding makes it easier for you to remember what you’re looking at. If you circle or underline a sentence in red pen and you go back to it later, you may run into, Wait — why did I mark that again? With color coding, you know what each color means.

When revising, I won’t rid my text completely of -ly and -ing words. But highlighting them shows me how often I rely on them. During a first draft, it’s a lot.

Once I have highlighted the hell out of the text, I get to work rewriting. I use a notebook to rewrite. I only rewrite on the original document if it’s fixing a sentence or two. If I’m going to add a new paragraph or rewrite an entire page, I write it in the notebook.

I can’t edit on a screen. I know some people can, but it’s not for me. Rewriting in longhand allows me to slow down and really make sure I’m making the text stronger. When I edit on the screen, I tend to go too fast, and I miss something crucial.

I use the color coding system for at least the first two rounds of edits. After that, I send it out to my trusted readers for feedback.

At most, I do five to six rounds of edits. It varies depending on the project but that’s my comfort number.

What you need to do is find an editing system that works for you.

And like everything else in the writing community, it’ll change project to project. For example, my blog posts go through one, maybe two rounds of edits. It depends on the length and the topic. I don’t use highlighters when editing blog posts.

Editing is all about finding what works and what will make your words stronger. When you find a system that flows with your creativity and improves productivity, it’ll change your mindset about editing. You may even come to love it.

Your turn. Do you swear by the red pen and only the red pen? Are you a screen editor or a hardcopy editor? Have you tried color coding? Let me know below. I’d love to hear how you make editing work for you.

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