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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast about writing that I started in 2017 and that ran, more or less weekly, until April 2022. This is a republication of issue #8, about how to switch from writing to editing, which first ran on March 10/17.
Welcome to The Write Question, the video-podcast designed to answer your questions about writing. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant.
Today I have a question from Lisa Hartley from Vancouver, British Columbia, where I live. Lisa is a celebrant who conducts weddings and end of life ceremonies. For the last six months she’s been working on book about her mother’s life and her own experiences as a celebrant and here’s what she asked me: “I’m at the point of editing my book right now and I don’t know how to go about it. I feel as though I’m just pushing words and sentences around and I’m not convinced I’m making them any better. What do you suggest I do?”
Thanks for the question, Lisa. Transitions are always hard and, because we’ve spoken personally, I know that you don’t find writing difficult. But let me tell you a secret.
I’m convinced the world can be divided into two categories: Those who prefer writing and those who prefer editing. I’d suggest that only 20% of the world falls into the former category and some 80% land in the latter.
You’re fortunate to be in the more exclusive catagory, but that does mean you’ll struggle more with editing.
Just like the number of books in the Harry Potter series, I have seven tips for you to help your editing.
#1: Be sure you define your readership before you edit: Who is going to read your book? What type of information will be most useful to them? You probably sorted this out before you wrote, of course, but you also need to review it before you edit — to keep yourself on track.
#2: Understand that you’re a natural writer. You should expect to find editing difficult. I don’t mean that you should be daunted by it. If it’s hard or uncomfortable don’t suspect that you’re doing something wrong.
#3: Do your editing first thing in the day. Motivational author Brian Tracy calls this “eating your frogs,” by which he means doing the most difficult things first. Have a frog for breakfast and everything else you eat that day is going to seem so much easier and so much more delicious.
#4 Give yourself super short time goals. Set a timer for only 5 minutes of editing — barely enough time to turn on your computer — and do no more than that for at least 10 days. From there, work yourself up to 15, 30 and finally 60 minutes. This is called the Kaizen method, and I’ll link to an article about it in the description.
#5 Give yourself plenty of rewards. These rewards can be simple and inexpensive, like buying yourself a coffee, getting yourself flowers or giving yourself more time to watch videos about writing on YouTube.
#6: Start using what I call the multiple pass system. This means looking for one problem at a time. For example, I might spend one edit simply looking for — and eliminating — clichés. Then I might spend another checking sentence length, and a third trying to reduce wordiness. I know this sounds like a more work but it’s actually faster to concentrate on just one thing at a time.
And #7: Find yourself some “beta readers”: Once you have the draft to a certain level of excellence, share it with some trusted friends and ask them to give you some constructive criticism. Their feedback will be invaluable to you because they will have fresh eyes and will see things quite differently.
Finally, let me conclude with a quote from the French novelist Colette. She said: “Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”
Thanks for your question, Lisa. Good luck with your editing.
Thanks so much for watching. If YOU have a question, you can email, tweet, or skype me. You can find the details in the description below along with any resources I’ve mentioned. And don’t forget to like and subscribe to the video.