Once you finish writing any piece, regardless of length, the next step is to go through an editing process. For shorter stories, editing may take less time than it takes for longer works, but both require editing. Once you reach this point in the writing process, in addition to your own editing, you will likely ask beta readers or actual editors to look over the work. You may think this just means changing punctuation here or there, or fixing a few typos. However, the editing process, when done correctly, is actually much more in-depth than that. This comes as a surprise to some writers, but there are actually two different types of main editing that should take place: content editing and copyediting. Let’s take a look at both types and learn how you can best edit your work.
Typically, content editing is the first stage in the editing process. Content editing concentrates on the larger picture as well as ensuring your work contains all the essential story elements and rhetorical devices. In this type of editing, you will look at characters to ensure they are well-built, the plot to make sure it has the correct story arch, the theme to make sure it is properly conveyed, etc. You will also double-check that everything you wrote is geared toward a specific audience and genre. Basically, almost every aspect of good writing you learned about through the years is addressed during this editing stage. As a result, this stage is where you as a writer will be forced to make the biggest changes. During this process, you may cut out entire scenes or characters, or, on the flip side, you may add scenes or characters.
This can be a long process, and often writers will need to content edit a work multiple times. While any objective third person help will improve the content edit, it is also good to conduct your own content edit. Write down approximately five important aspects you want to address and then read through the manuscript looking for those specific aspects. When you focus on only a few elements in the writing rather than all of them, you will be less likely to miss glaring issues. Of course, as the writer you may be biased, which is why third party help is recommended.
Content editing is the longest part of the editing process, but don’t get discouraged. Keep fighting through, and at the end of the day, your manuscript will read all the better because of it.
After completing the content edit, your next step is copyediting, or line editing. Copyediting is what you typically think of editing: it focuses on sentence level errors and grammar. This is when you reword sentences to improve clarity, you put in those missing commas, and you rewrite a sentence to make it more lyrical or detailed. There is no real point in performing the copyedit before the content edit because you could remove entire paragraphs in the content edit process. So, rather than put in the effort to perfect sentences you might later take out, you should wait to copyedit until after completing the content edit.
Unless you are a grammar guru, much of the copyediting will need to be completed by a professional editor. Even if you have excellent grammatical skills, having multiple eyes on your work will help minimize typos and other minor errors. Apart from the grammatical corrections, copyediting also means rewriting sentences for clarity or lyricism. As the writer, you will likely complete this portion of the copyedit. This is your final opportunity to ensure every word in the manuscript makes an impact. Either you or your editor can read through the manuscript and spot the places that need to be rewritten. Overall, the copyediting process polishes your work and smoothes out the remaining rough edges. By the end, you should have a finished masterpiece.
Well, if you are reading this, you likely are all ready to start editing. Your first step should probably be to reach out to trusted fellow writers, perhaps in nearby writing groups or classes. Also, if able, you can hire a professional editor to conduct either a content edit, copyedit, or both. Even asking friends and family members without writing experience can be helpful. You will be surprised what people catch that you never thought you would miss, like plot holes or consistency problems.
This process takes a great amount of time, but it is important if you want your work to be published. Although publishing companies also do their own extensive editing once they sign a book contract, going through this editing process before submitting your work will shoot up your odds of getting noticed. With such a large amount of submissions, publishing companies will not take the time to notice your great idea if it is hidden under messy sentences. So, even if your editing team is limited, get started and keep plugging away. It may seem overwhelming now, but it will make or break your writing career.
Mackenzie Hendricks graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho with a Bachelor in English. She currently works as a freelance writer and editor.
She enjoys reading all types of genres, but her favorites are fantasy and historical fiction. In addition to writing nonfiction and scholarly articles, she also dabbles in creative writing in her spare time.