Editing Your Work

In this writing experience blog, I’m going to talk about a technique I’ve developed for editing my own work.  Before we go any further, this is not suggesting that proper professional editorials can be avoided – indeed, I have established a newfound respect for the work that gets done in editorials.  What this does do is to suggest a way that ‘self-editing’ can be completed in a more productive, albeit time-consuming (!), manner.

Well, it seemed to work for me in any case.

You’ve been a bit quiet?Mandestroy_Book_Cover

Yes I have.  But that’s not because I’ve not been busy!  It has been a while since I’ve done a ‘writing experience’ blog, so it is definitely about time.  My excuse (do I need to give an excuse?) is that I’ve been doing lots of book reviews in exchange for reviews of Fear’s Union,  and work to get Mandestoy out there.  But that’s mostly done.  Time to reflect.

Does this replace an editorial?

With all my heart, NO.  No it doesn’t.

I developed this method as a way of getting down and dirty in editing Mandestroy.  Because that novella was always going to be free, I had a real reluctance to spend money on a professional editorial – I’m sure you can sympathise with that!  I suspect Mandestroy would have cost c. £250 to get edited, and that was money I could do without spending.  Especially with no direct way to claw it back.

So – what have I come up with?  Well, the process I’ve come up with seems (he says without a true objective view) to work quite well, particularly for technical prose type problems.  I call it the ‘Bricks & Mortar’ review.  I don’t really know why.

Is it as good as a professional editorial?  Certainly not.  A professional view will give a higher quality review, probably a broader view, and may also give market orientated intelligence.  But I think that this technique does provide a layer of polish that has been lacking from my previous work.  I’ll let you be the judge of that!

How much effort is it?

This is the eye-opener.

Mandestroy is about 35,000 words – so a short novel, or a good size novella.  And to carry out this review, it took me about 25 hours!  That’s a lot of time.

And this is the thing – if that’s the effort an editor will put in too, then that £250 will translate to about £10/hour.  That’s not a lot of money for a professional service!  Suddenly, editorial work doesn’t seem to be quite so expensive.

Now, let’s be honest – there are probably lots of reasons why it doesn’t take a pro 25 hours to do the same work.  Let’s think about it shall we?

  • They do it more frequently, so will certainly be quicker;
  • I did two sweeps.  A pro probably does just one;
  • A pro may not need the same magnifying glass to do the same job;
  • A pro might not do as thorough a job (but thorough doesn’t translate as better!);
  • Editorials also vary by price, scope and quality.

Nonetheless, it is a lot of work, and (frankly) quite dull too.  Writing prose is great fun!  Editing the life out of it is not.  Editorials must surely, therefore, be money well spent, if done right.

Has Fear’s Union been through the same?

Err…  No.  And in fact, I’m dreading going back and seeing what I find.

I’ve kind of been aware that I should do this sort of thing for some time, but I’ve always shied away from it.  And the reason is plain to see.  Mandestroy has taken 25 hours, which means that Fear’s Union (which is 120,000 words) will be about 100 hours.

That’s quite scary.

And that’s not 12.5 eight hour days worth of work.  Oh no.  That’s probably 50 two-hour evenings of work.  50 evenings of work, after having been in the office for eight hours.  Ho hum.

Will I do it?  Yes, though there are other more fundamental bits I want to tackle first.  But I’m not entirely relishing the prospect – although I think I’ll be pleased with the outcome.

Come on then.  What’s it all about?

Well, it’s actually rather simple.  I read some advice in a writing book once that said “sentences are like the building blocks of a book”.  They are the basic ingredients, and each one must stand on its own.

Well that’s obvious, isn’t it?

But the problem I’ve always had is that in a body of prose, a sentence is rather concealed.  Try going through a book and reading each sentence independently.  I find it really hard!  The natural reader in me will tend to add the sentences together, and once we’ve done that – once we’ve contextualised the sentence – the flaws in that sentence may get hidden.

So, what I needed was a way to break out all the sentences so that I could inspect them separately.  Easy, right?

Maybe, but I didn’t know how.

What did you do then?

This is easy – I embedded some VBA code into an Excel workbook.  Excel I hear you say?  Surely that’s a terrible piece of reading software.  Yes, yes it is.  But if we want to look at individual sentences, then perhaps not so much.

So here’s how it works:

  • Point the VBA at the word doc with your work in;
  • Point it at the required output worksheet, and the required row;
  • Press go!

You can then:

  • Go through the text, row by row, and make sure that each sentence stands up in its own right;
  • You’ll also need to go through and flag paragraph breaks, section breaks, and chapter breaks.
  • And when you’re done, point to a location, and it will export your editing word document!  Easy.

Is that all?

Well kind of, yes.  But if we are reading through row by row, is that not the same as editing in a word doc?  Sort of.  It does help you to focus on the sentence, but context is still there and threatens to hide the technical frailties.

In fact, the first sweep I did on this basis retained a number of problems.

But because we have done this in Excel, it is then really easy to use randomising functions to assign random tags to each sentence, mix them up, and present them for review once more.

That’s right – I mixed up every sentence in the book and reviewed them in that random order!  The context is entirely gone, but that leaves you with a powerful reviewing tool.  Those sentences really have to stand on their own two feet.

I also tried replacing random words (e.g. substituting Bob for Kantal), but didn’t feel that this added too much.

Overall, this process was very time consuming, but I felt that it was actually really powerful as a polishing tool for an already tight novel.  I will definitely be using it in the future (though I will also use editorial services too!)

Can I get a look at this workbook?

Now, this Excel workbook has not been edited to distribution standard.  I personally know how to use it, but there are no clear instructions, and I wouldn’t want to share it until it was up to scratch.  So it’s going to stay as my personal tool for the time being.

Until I’m incentivised to share it!

Once I get 10 comments on this post – only 10! – I’ll go back, smarten up the tool, and make it available on the website.

That’s it from me this month.  Next month, I think I will talk through my experiences of getting my first review feedback; a bit of a roller-coaster for sure!

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