Why You Should Edit As You Go (The Self-Editing Guide Part 3)

Ask the question in a writing group, and almost everyone will tell you not to worry about grammar or structure or even sentence flow as you write—to instead just get the story out on paper. After all, you can’t edit a blank page, but you can always go back and fix what you’ve written later. While that may be true to some extent—it is always better to have something to work with rather than stare at a blank page all day trying to figure out the best way to word that first sentence—that doesn’t mean all knowledge of grammar and the rules of the English language go out the window. In this article, I’ll be listing a few reasons why you SHOULD edit as you go, and why it’s what’s worked for me every time and has made the editing process much, much simpler.

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One of the most important reasons that editing as I go is not only helpful but necessary is the fact that it saves so much time in the long run. I always make it a point, each day I get out my WIP, to start by reading the previous scene. This helps put my mind back in the world of elementals and shadow-wielders, and it helps me keep things consistent from scene to scene. But it also helps me catch any mistakes I’d made the night before. With fresh eyes, I’m much more likely to look at it with condemnation—with an editor’s eye versus a writer’s. If I ignore these mistakes and just keep writing, telling myself I will catch them all next month when I go back for the editing phase, I may not catch the same mistakes I could catch today. And if I wait and edit it all at once, it’s going to take a lot longer and quite a few more rounds of editing before I stop finding errors every time I read through it.

Editing an entire manuscript is tedious and often-times intimidating when you’re a new writer. If the whole thing is littered with errors, the idea can bog you down and make you feel like your writing is worthless. There are so many great stories that never see the light of day, and one thing I am always hearing in various writing groups I’m a part of is that when new writers go back and read what they’ve written, they think it’s awful and want to scrap it and start over. The idea of editing all that—something they probably spent months writing—is too much for them. They don’t feel like it’s possible or worth the time to polish it into something they can be proud of. That’s why rereading and polishing short pieces as you go can ease your work-load tremendously and help reduce the chance of abandoning ship later.

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One thing I also often hear when people ask if they should bother themselves with editing as they go: “that’s what editors are for”. Imagine you hired a maid to clean your house top to bottom for a party you were throwing. She’s one of the best. She comes with glowing recommendations. Her prices are reasonable. But because you knew a maid would clean up after you, you left dishes all over the counters, you spilled cereal all over the floor, you let your kid destroy the living room, and you didn’t bother to clean any of it because you knew the maid was coming and she would handle it all. After all, she’s great at what she does—you’re paying her for that very job.

But she’s human, and she has to adhere to the rules of time and the limitations of exhaustion just like everyone else. She spends all her time cleaning up the little messes that you left out of carelessness and never gets to the big stuff. She works overtime to get the job done as she had promised, but the day ends and the party starts. While it may be decent—she managed to clean up all the glaring distractions, put away all the toys, do the dishes, and wipe the counters—you hear some of the guests note that things could have been nicer. You hear them point out things she missed.

As an editor, I’ll be the first to tell you that while we love to catch errors and play a crucial part in making your story the best version of itself, we can’t work on the big problems you hired us for if we’re too busy editing all the little errors you knowingly left for us. Editors are often underpaid and we usually work overtime, going over your story again and again to catch everything we can and point out developmental issues, character inconsistencies, etc. But if you have a certain timeline you need the work delivered by, it will be difficult to catch everything if it’s a complete mess when we receive it.

This brings me to my next reason for editing as you go: protecting the integrity of the story. If you respect the story you’re writing, why let it start out as a sloppy mess and stay that way for most of its infancy? Don’t get overwhelmed with perfectionism, but definitely respect your story enough to fix the spelling error you caught as you skimmed over a passage. My main point is: don’t stop yourself from fixing something you see because others have convinced you that you’ll never get that rough draft written if you get distracted by all the errors. They’re right to an extent. Definitely don’t let the mistakes discourage you. Everyone makes them. Even editors need to edit over and over again, whether it’s their own project or someone else’s.

I just received feedback from an author of a novel I recently edited, and even though he was extremely impressed by how I edited and said I changed his opinion of editors forever, he still mentioned that they found errors I missed. His next statement was that you can never get something completely error-free. That reminded me of something else an old friend once said to me when I first told him I wanted to be a writer. He said, “Writing is never perfect.” It can’t be. No matter what you do, how you write it, there’s always a better way it could have been written. There’s always an error you missed or someone else who could have done it better. Writing is subjective. So always remember to do the best you can for your story and give it the quality it deserves, but don’t be afraid to make mistakes either. As with most things in life, a healthy balance is always the right answer.


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

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WRITING YOUR FIRST NOVEL PART Eight: Grammar

 

 “People who cannot distinguish between good and bad language, or who regard the distinction as unimportant, are unlikely to think carefully about anything else.” 


― B.R. Myers

 

When I was in elementary school, I cheated. I cheated when I was forced to participate in spelling bees. A pastime it seemed my teachers thought was the most fun a student could have. I didn’t. And no, I did not write words on my palms or sneak a peek at the teacher’s word list. I purposely misspelled words that I knew how to spell so I could stop playing.

Spelling was never fun. Science was fun. Spelling was tedious, science was exciting. The quicker we got through the English lesson, the quicker I could do a science experiment.

I managed to get by with my little scheme for a while but never try to outwit a teacher, it rarely works. She caught on, and I had to play without missing words she knew I could spell.

The truth is I did well in English and literature, but my focus was elsewhere, my loves in school were science and chorus. Consequently, my knowledge and skills in grammar arrived by rote, not by interest. I should have been wiser.

Grammar is the foundation of communication. Without proper grammar, our thoughts cannot be expressed except as incoherent ramblings or incorrect meaning. I learned the hard way that grammar mattered in all aspects of life.

As a college freshman majoring in a science discipline, I took my first exam in Microbiology 101, my major. I was certain I had done well, plus there were ten bonus points. When I arrived at the class lab the day following the test, the lab instructor informed me that my professor wanted to see me.

Entering Dr. Weaver’s cramped, dark office crowded with antique scientific equipment, I was petrified. Maybe I hadn’t done as well as I thought. He motioned for me to sit and then handed me my exam. I had gotten a score of 103. Relief washed over me, then concern. What had I gotten incorrect? I knew the material.

Dr. Weaver noticed my confusion and smiled, a rare thing for him to do. He told me that I had done very well, but he wanted to discuss what I had not done well. Spelling. He had circled a few scientific words but told me he did not count off for spelling those words during the first semester, everyone misspelled names of bacteria. I misspelled seven common words, and he took a point off for each one.

He explained that while I had an excellent grasp of the subject matter, I needed to understand that how I presented my thoughts would influence how people perceived my credibility. Words matter, and the grammar used to structure those words matter too.

Let’s look at one of the classic examples of how grammar affects the meaning of sentences.

“Let’s eat grandpa” vs. “Let’s eat, grandpa.”

I doubt anyone doesn’t see the issues with the lack of a comma in the first sentence. The reasons for proper grammar are obvious.

 

General Reasons to Practice Good Grammar

In general, proper grammar is essential to communication, which, as stated earlier, is vital to all facets of life. The above example concerning grandpa shows how we emphasize ideas conveys meaning. For our thoughts to be understood, they must be conveyed with clarity and precision.

In business or social situations, first impressions are important. We are often warned ‘not to judge a book by its cover,’ an idiom that cautions us not to judge people by their appearance when first meeting them. First impressions no matter how hard we strive to be unbiased do matter. Whether the first time someone meets you is in person or via the written word, how you communicate with them is a sign of your intellect and education.

Proper communication also provides credibility, crucial as you build a career or a personal relationship.

 

Grammar for the Writer

Ask writers for their pet peeves about grammar and the list is endless. Confused words, dangling participles, incorrect verb tenses, their vs. they’re vs. there are among the errors cited. Yet, ask these same writers if grammar is important when writing and the results can be confusing. The answer is often no.

One of the components of writing is referred to as the writer’s voice. According to the website Pub(lishing) Crawl, “The writer’s voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of idiotypical usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works). Voice can be thought of in terms of the uniqueness of a vocal voice machine.”

This definition is why there are conflicts over how writers perceive grammar. We develop a unique manner of presenting our work. The voice we present to the world is ours and ours alone and at times, to impart our personalities we may break the rules. We may write a sentence of a single word or offer a fragment of a sentence for emphasis. Poetic license allows us to depart from convention.

A bit of liberty in writing complete sentences for emphasis is one thing, but we have discussed that grammar increases clarity of meaning and raises our credibility. These two concepts, one writing correctly and the other taking poetic license, seem diametrically opposed yet remain an issue of contention among writers.

My opinion is that dialogue can be written as people talk, in slang, in sentence fragments, keeping grammar deviations to a minimum. The narrative of a story, however, should follow proper grammar.

As important as these general reasons for using good grammar are there are specific reasons for writers to understand the value of communication.

  • The ‘experts’ who offer writing advice suggest that we write our first draft without concern about grammar or sentence structure. We should write to get the story out. Errors can be corrected on subsequent edits. I disagree. I think we should make a habit of using correct grammar from the beginning. The editing process is difficult enough without adding to issues that can be dealt with as you write.
  • You will be offering your manuscript for review by beta readers, editors, agents, and publishers. The novice writer with little experience needs to establish credibility. Sending a manuscript for evaluation with punctuation and spelling errors and poorly constructed sentences will not instill the confidence necessary to be taken seriously. That is not to say that any writer, regardless of experience, should submit a badly written manuscript at any time. They should not.
  • Many of us write simply for the pleasure of writing. The art of weaving words into a story brings a great deal of satisfaction. I suspect, however, that we also write for the pleasure of others. If we want our readers to become engrossed in our stories, root for our heroes, then give them a well-written book. If it isn’t well-written, it will be left unread.
  • The last reason to practice good grammar, respect for yourself. Writing a novel is not an easy task, but if you make an effort to create a well-written and well-crafted novel the results will be worth the time.

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” 

― Dorothy Parker

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Resources:

http://ask.dailygrammar.com/Why-is-grammar-important.html

www.publishingcrawl.com/2013/06/24/literary-voice-developing-it-and-defining-it/

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/grammar