Every writer has their own editing process that they use to polish up their manuscripts. Today, I’d like to share mine with you guys, because it’s a little different from traditional editing systems. (Please note that ‘editing’ is an umbrella term in this article that includes the revision process as well.)
I’m very much a ‘people person’ when it comes to learning. That is, I’d much rather learn by example than textbook. This is why my editing systems are based on the styles of actual writers and teachers rather than being a static, checklist process I got from a writing website.
First, I’ll start off with the systems based on my favourite writers.
The Orwellian system:
- Can you say it in one word?
- Can you say it in a shorter word?
- Does the word need to be there at all?
- ‘Break these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.’
I don’t think the Orwellian system needs much explanation. This is essentially the backbone of most editing systems, so you’re probably familiar with these tips already.
The Palahniuk system:
- Do it. Do it now.
- Does the sentence pack a punch?
Chuck Palahniuk is the king of in-your-face writing. For the type of novel I’m working on, I need to mimic that, so I’ve followed some of the examples he’s set in Fight Club and Rant. Plus, Palahniuk always makes me wanna get up and knock out my MS with a good ol’ fashioned one-two, so he’s useful for motivation as well as editing.
The May-Lan Tan system:
- ‘Language is queen.’
- ‘Efficiency is elegance.’
- ‘Good art teaches you how to view it.’
- Write for the ear.
May-Lan Tan might not be quite as well-known as the first two, but she deserves to be up here with them. When she came to speak at one of my lectures, I was blown away by the control she had over her work, the way every single word fit perfectly and no other word could replace it. If you want your work to sound more poetic, follow her advice and ‘work like a poet’. It definitely works well for her (and for me).
These are the systems I’ve created based on things I’ve learned from my professors, both in class and through their own unique writing styles.
The English system:
- Is it clear?
- Is it concise?
- Is it cohesive?
Boom! That’s all there is to it. This is what my Professional Editing and Technical Writing professor, Dr Amy England, drilled into our heads with the help of Williams’ Style: Toward Clarity and Grace. Dr England’s teaching profoundly improved my writing style and showed me that technical writing isn’t as menacing a beast as I originally thought (and it can help with your prose, too).
The Barnette system:
- Are you able to explain it so that a six-year-old can understand?
- ‘Fear the heat and cold of your heart, and try to have patience, if you can.’
The Barnette system is based more on personal connection and emotion than classroom advice (which I think Dr Sean Barnette, former lecturer and forever mentor, would appreciate). The first tip came from a conversation we had where I’d said, ‘I don’t know, I can’t really explain it.’ And he said, ‘Then you don’t understand it yourself.’ He followed up with the comment that, if you really understand something, you should be able to explain it to a six-year-old in simple terms.
The second tip is what he wrote in my copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, the parting gift to Lander University’s 2015 English seniors. At first, I almost wanted to hate him for saying that. I thought he’d reduced me down to the hot-and-cold emotional mess that I am, and I found it insulting. But I soon realised he was right, and it particularly applies to the novel I’m working on. I’ve come to see that he saw the need for balance in a person who has very little, and this has affected not just my writing, but my overall quality of life as well.
There you have it – straight from the mouths (and pens) of some of the best in the business. Got any personalised editing systems of your own, or a great mentor that’s helped shape your writing? Do share in the comments!