Monday, July 15, 2013

7 Steps to Effective Copy-Editing

Most writers need an Intellgent Editer [misspellings intentional]
Most writers need an Intellgent Editer [misspellings intentional]
(Major Clanger from Flickr


by Leo Walsh.

You can find his science fiction novel even snow melts on Amazon.


Like most writers, I loathe editing. It is boring, time-consuming – but necessary. Copy-editing requires detachment. Which is difficult, since we all tend to get attached to our work – an issue I addressed earlier using the lens of Behavioral Economics' IKEA Effect.

As an indie writer, I can not afford to hire an editor. And editing my first novel, even snow melts, took me a long time.

I realized that humans struggle with new tasks: assuming I would edit better as I grew more experienced. This seems universal. But not with editing. Months later, however, I still sucked at copy-editing.

I realized a truism: “I had no process for efficient and effective editing.” And processes at work – from checklists to project management flow charts – make me more effective than many.

But how do you bring in rational process so it does not kill the creative sparkle? I think I succeeded. But it required discovering a free online copy-editor called Pro Writing Aid (http://prowritingaid.com/).




Copy-Editing Process (Using Pro Writing Aid)

Though it seems mechanical, stick to the process. It focuses you on how your text reads -- not what you think it says.


1. Select a small sample of rough-draft text.

2. Eliminate “Overused Words” -- Like "could," and "feel/ feeling/ felt"

  • Locate errors in the "Overused Words" report. Correct what you can.  "Analyze" corrected text.
  • If “Overused Wordshas green check-mark, continue.
  • If not, make the necessary corrections. Repeat until clear.

3. Check your “Writing Style” -- and follow Writer's Workshop saws like "Lose the adverbs, and use stronger verbs" and "Avoid the passive voice."

 [FYI. The adverbs section is not 100% reliable. It counts all words ending in “-ly,” such as “jelly," as adverbs.] 
  • Locate the errors in your "Writing Style Report". Correct what you can. “Analyze" corrected text.
  • Check “Overused” and “Writing Style.” 
  • If both have green check-mark, continue.
  • If not, make the necessary corrections. Repeat until clear.

4. Tighten “Sticky Sentences” -- which are wordy and hard-to-read.

  • Check "Sticky Sentences." Make necessary corrections.“Analyze" corrected text.
  • Check prior reports along with this report -- "Overused," Writing Style" and "Sticky."
  • If  all have green check-mark, continue.
  • If not, make the necessary corrections based on the reports. Repeat until clear.

5. Eliminate “Clichés & Redundancies.” Don't say "little infant" -- "infant" suffices. And avoid cliches, like "par for the course." Instead, keep your writing unique and less predictable. 

  • Check "Clichés & Redundancies." Make necessary corrections. “Analyze" corrected text.
  • Check prior reports along with this report -- "Overused," Writing Style," "Sticky," and "Clichés." 
  • If  all have green check-mark, continue.
  • If not, make the necessary corrections based on the reports. Repeat until clear.

6. Swap names and brief descriptions for "Pronouns" to add clarity. 

Many pronouns are ambiguous – is “he” Frank or Jimmy? Substitute formal names or brief discriptions -- like "the musician" -- for pronouns as often as necessary.
  • Check "Pronouns." Make necessary corrections. “Analyze" corrected text.
  • Check prior reports along with this report -- "Overused," Writing Style," "Sticky," "Clichés," and  "Prounouns."
  • If  all have green check-mark, continue.
  • If not, make the necessary corrections based on the reports. Repeat until clear.

7. Print the text – or add to an eReader.

Read through and make sure it works. Indicate any needed changes, and then rewrite.

Once you make your final changes, run through the process again. Each time through, there are less errors, and the writing emerges more clearly.

One final point: a machine is not a person.

The program cannot tell you if a topic is well argued. It does not know that you used the word “heroin” – a drug – instead of the “heroine” – a female hero. Nor can it tell you that a character is stereotyped, or your story dull. Nor does it know if your ad copy is persuasive.

That is your job as a writer.

But a tool like Pro Writing Aid really makes the dullest job any indie writer faces – editing – a lot easier.





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