Top Five Editing Mistakes

So you think you’ve finished your book. Now what? Whatever its genre and subject, your book is going to require a full edit. But at this stage, many writers tend to confuse editing with proofreading, when what every manuscript really needs is a thoughtful, thorough revision. Below are the top five editing mistakes writers make when they don’t commit to a comprehensive revision of their work:
1. Not getting enough distance. Revision is a massive, complex, drawn-out process that requires multiple levels of editing. Literally meaning “seeing again,” revision requires you to step far enough back from your own work to see it anew––almost as someone else’s, except you have the added benefit of knowing what it is you meant to say. It takes distance, though, to keep your original vision from obscuring what you’ve actually produced. No matter how painful it is, force yourself to put your completed manuscript in a drawer, real or metaphorical, and let it sit for at least a few weeks, if not months, before you take it out to review with fresh eyes.
2. Not sweating the small stuff. Just because editing doesn’t stop at proofreading doesn’t mean it’s not a hugely important step. The first thing most of your readers see when they open your book is how the text looks on the page—and any errors will be glaringly obvious. Comb every line for typos, misspellings, comma splices, dangling modifiers, misused punctuation, and other common errors.
3. Not cutting enough out. Now that you’ve gained distance from your work and cleaned up the finer points of the text, take a look at your work as a whole. If you were reading this for the first time, where would you find yourself bored, or disbelieving, or confused, or turned off? Look for sections that drag, superfluous descriptions, unbelievable characters or actions, melodrama, voice-heavy or overly clever passages, and even irrelevant plotlines to cut out. Like cleaning out your closet, it can be scary—but you always feel so much lighter when you drop those bags off at Goodwill.
4. Cutting too much out. That said, don’t approach your work as a pessimist. Self-doubt is just the nature of the game; don’t let it commandeer your editorial vision. If you find your ring finger hovering over the delete button on every line, take an hour or a day and a deep breath and come back to it. Trimming too much of your work not only creates plot or information holes, continuity issues, and poorly balanced prose, but also robs it of the heart—the voice, the message, the substance—that would make people want it read it in the first place.
5. Not enlisting another pair of eyes. Finally, one of the main mistakes writers make is trying to tackle the revision process alone. Whether your book is nearly perfect or has a face only a mother could love, you, as the mother, are bound to be blind to a few of its flaws. At the very least, hire a copyeditor to make a professional pass through your manuscript, and if you don’t work with a writing group, ask (or bribe) a trusted, thoughtful friend to give you an honest review of it. Of course, a professional editor is your best bet, and will point out problem areas or potential goldmines you weren’t even aware of. A fresh pair of eyes makes all the difference.
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