Monday, October 13, 2014

Editing Basics: Dos and Don'ts

Simple Rules to Remember When You're Editing Someone Else's Work

I'm just taking a small side note to say that I spent all yesterday working on drafting a 10 page research paper on the submarine in military history. And then I stayed up way too late to finish reading a book that I started reading on Friday. Which means that I might be a tad loopy while I write this, but hey: we're all mad here, right?

Anyway. I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out a topic for today, and since it's the first workshop day in my ENGL 304 class (Fiction Workshop), I figured I'd talk about editing: dos and don'ts.

(if anybody can tell me the correct way to spell the plural of "don't" I'll be forever grateful)

It's pretty simple, and just keep in mind that these are my own "rules" for editing in a clear and concise fashion; everyone will have their own way of editing someone else's piece, and there's also going to be a different between the way you edit a friend or CP's writing versus a total stranger. These are pretty situation-neutral, though:

**Edit: this advice is aimed at non-professional editing. Critique groups, critique partners, beta readers, etc. If your PROFESSIONAL editor (i.e. your book is going to be published and you're under contract) makes a suggestion or advises you to change/fix things, don't just take it under consideration, make the change. They know what they're doing a lot more than a non-professional**

Do point out/correct any basic spelling/grammar mistake. It might seem arbitrary, and I've honestly known a few people to get mad at me for doing this, but seriously: the last thing you want is to get called out for bad spelling and grammar. If you see the same mistake throughout the manuscript, point out the first few, and then make a note phrased somewhat like: "I noticed you [insert mistake here] a lot. Watch out for that."

Don't be rude when correcting grammar. This kind of applies to every piece of editing advice I will ever give, but seriously. Some people are simply not good at grammar things; I've met quite a few people who've had great writing, but for the life of them they couldn't stop making the same mistakes. It happens. As my professor says, "There is no direct correlation between good grammar and good writing." Help them along, offer to teach them or give them tricks if you must; never insult them because of it.

Do point out both likes and dislikes. Trust me, nobody likes getting a MS back that's full of, "Change this," or "Don't do that." I'm not saying to gush at them (I hate when I get gushed at after I ask for someone to be constructive), I'm saying to point out where they do things right. Maybe even an arrow at a certain line or description, or where they show instead of tell, and say, "Do more of this." Basically, this "rule" is all about being constructive.

Don't assume that you're the greatest editor in the world and that the author of the piece has to make the changes you suggest or else. This is particularly aimed at beta's and CPs, and basically anyone non-professional.. Lay out your suggestions, and let the author do as they may. Be open for questions from them in case they'd like some clarification. This also leads into my last point...

Do explain why you suggest something. This isn't aimed at something like fixing the spelling of a word; if you think there should be more description somewhere, tell the author why. If something doesn't make sense, tell them why. If a character is suddenly acting way different than in the beginning of the MS, point it out and say, "Why is Bob eating strawberries? Chapter two said he was deadly allergic...?" If you think a scene or a piece of narrative should be taken out explain why. If you don't, the author's either going to ignore the suggestion, or come back asking why, anyway, so save both of ya'll the trouble.

Above all, guys, something to watch out for is controlling your tone. We all know how well tone can translate across the written word, and none of us want to feel unfairly judged or attacked by somebody we trusted with our writing. Be helpful, not hurtful.


I really hope those make sense, but yeah. Those are my own personal, basic rules for editing. Any of ya'll have something you'd like to add to the list?

Tweet It:

Do explain, but don't assume the author has to take your suggestions. @Rae_Slater shares her basic rules for editing (Click to Tweet)

Writer @Rae_Slater starts workshopping in class today, so she shares her basic rules on editing. Have anything to add? (Click to Tweet)


  1. This is an excellent post, regardless of what kind of writing you're editing. Also... I FOLLOWED YOU BACK!

    1. Aw, thanks, Briana! AND YOU TOTALLY ROCK, thank you so much ^_^