Thursday, 4 February 2010

Notes on Editing

Since I signed up for my first writing workshop four years ago, ‘tis been a torturous route into proofreading and editing my own fiction.

I used to adhere to the Surrealist principal that whatever came out would do, baby. Choatic brainsplatter is as close to the raw unconscious beauty that one seeks in art, so who needs to proofread? Well, I did. Badly.

So I attended Edinburgh University’s Creative Writing Workshop. It was – not to mince words – shit. I was sharing work with people who hadn’t read it in advance, I received such staggering comments as ‘this bit is good’ and ‘I didn’t like this’ and so on. On the plus side, it gave me the belief that I might actually be good at this writing thing. I also met the most important human being in my life there, but that’s too dull for a blog.

So. I moved on. I tinkered on reviewing sites. It was on a semi-decent website that I met a group of super reviewers and began proofreading and editing proper. Without this site, I wouldn’t have thought to break down paragraphs into manageable chunks, to use only one adjective instead of fourteen, or learn the discipline of hacking the insides out a first draft.

Now I have the proofreading skill at a reasonable rate (far from perfect), the next task is identifying the flaws in style, intent, approach, plot and character. How can we tell what is the right way of going about things? Obvious answer is – does this page of writing make us laugh, smile, want to read on, enthrall us, interest us, make us curious or do something of note?

These are good starting points. More to follow.


  1. I like your criteria (does this page make me laugh, want to read on, etc.). I recently did a review on that semi-decent site in which I pointed out ALL of the usual editing problems. The writer commented that writing a squeaky clean text would take the soul out of his writing. A true artist can have both: soul and correct punctuation.

  2. Elizabeth Spann Craig has some EXCELLENT reviewing criteria (which I have yet to implement)--when I see them though, they look REALLY useful! She evaluates each scene for what it was intended to do, then rates it on strong medium or weak. if it didn't have a purpose, she cuts it... or something that logical.

    I generally approach it my just having a large enough writer's group that i figure SOMEONE will point it out... Seriously though, I think the best schooling I could have gotten in revising MY work, is reviewing OTHER peoples. It's good to practice on something that has less of your blood running through it.

  3. when i first started writing, i was also of the school of first thought, best thought but leaning to revise is a fine art. love your ideas here for how you went about doing it. finding a good critique group is a wonderful thing!