Friday, October 16, 2015

Editing, or "What Lack I Yet?"

With the week winding down a little bit, maybe this will jump-start a conversation on the Three Cluttered Pigs.

Obviously, TCP is an exercise in editing. But what kind of editing? (And, yes, there are many different kinds of editing.)

In the technical writing world where I work, we talk about no fewer than ten kinds of editing. I won't bore you with them because most of them don't apply to the kind of writing we're doing and I kind of get glazy-eyed just thinking about them where they DO apply. For the kind of writing we're interested in, there are three "levels of editing" to consider:

1. Macro editing. This kind of editing involves looking at the big picture: Does my thesis make sense? Does the evidence I offer support my thesis? Have I included enough detail? Have I taken shortcuts that will confuse the reader? Have I left in material that's extraneous to my point and will confuse or bore the reader?

2. Line editing. Did I spell names correctly? Did I clearly indicate where I am quoting another person? Am I accurate in my summaries? If I read this aloud, are there any passages that sound awkward and thus should be re-written?

3. Copy editing. Have I eliminated as many typos as possible? Did I use the right verb tense? Why did my word processor underline that word with a squiggle? How does the formatting look?

With each level of edit, we get closer to the actual words. And each level of edit requires a different kind of thinking to accomplish. And you should do each of these levels of edit for everything you write. Everything. Every time.

Here's a few tips on how to do this efficiently:

1. Leave copy editing for last. Absolutely last. It's the easiest of the levels to do, and should come only after you've fixed any bigger issues with what you've written. I have mentioned before that I have re-written my current novel-in-progress eight times. Although I have caught typos and other small errors along the way and fixed them, I have yet to do a copy edit of my novel. Too much is changing right now to make that worthwhile.

2. Don't do all of the levels at once. Start with the macro editing, the big picture, and make sure you're satisfied with the overall big picture before you move on to another level.

3. Identify where your editing weakness lies. I know my weakness lies in macro editing, which is why I keep doing it over and over again with my novel. Each time, I think it gets better. And this is where I bring in others to read it. I tell them I'm not interested in them finding typos (if they do, that's great; less work for me later) but I tell them "Look at the big picture. Is this a story you want to read? If not, WHY?!" Fixing the macro problems will make the line edit and copy edit go a lot more smoothly.

Every time I sit down to edit, I'm reminded of a story from the New Testament, where a man approaches Jesus and asks what he has to do to attain eternal life(Matthew 19:16-23):

And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?

And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,

Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.

When I put on my editing hat, I ask myself, "what lack I yet?" I know I started with some good ideas and put together some thoughts that will help my reader understand my point of view, or tell my story. But I know I'm not perfect, so I ask, "what lack I yet." And sometimes when I'm reading, I get that beautifully blunt answer, similar to what Jesus offered: I lack a lot. More macro editing. But because I want to prove I can pass through the eye of a needle, I keep working.

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