Overcome the Editing Overwhelm

It was my freshman year of college, I had a huge paper due for one of my many literature classes (yeah, English majors!), and I had waited until the very last minute to do it. Feverishly, at 3 am, I finished my essay, re-read it hastily, pronounced it brilliant, and went to sleep. At 7 am, I re-read it and realized with dread that it was terrible. I had to turn it in at 9 am.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and venture that this story isn’t that unique. I’m sure we’ve all been there, whether it was an all-nighter in college, a big presentation at work, or a chapter of a novel you’re writing.

Sometimes the revising and editing stage can be a cold shock after living in the fairy-tale land of writing that first draft.

But I did so well, you’re thinking. And you did! You managed to start writing (which is one of the hardest steps, believe me), keep your inner critics at bay long enough to keep it up, and now you have a finished product. Except...you don’t. You read it in the cold, harsh light of day, it’s a hot mess, and now you’re tempted to throw it out and try to start again.

Never fear! The Storyologist is here! 

(Life is always better with an imaginary superhero.)

(Life is always better with an imaginary superhero.)

Step One: Take a deep breath and give yourself a break.

First drafts are rarely amazing. That’s kind of how it is. I always like to think of myself as an 8th grader when I look at my work. When I was teaching 8th grade and commented on a paper, I would always use the tried and true critique sandwich technique. Start with a complement, stuff a little constructive criticism in the middle, and end with a complement. It always made my 8th graders feel inspired to tackle the next step, and that’s how it should make you feel too. If you yell at your inner 8th grader, expect to be shut out, have eyes rolled at you, and be called some pretty horrific names. Trust me, opt for the sandwich technique.

Step Two: Read it aloud, preferably to a friend who is outside of your field.

I’m always amazed by how much you can catch when you read it aloud, and especially to someone else who can stop you and say, “Wait – what??” Trust me, you want someone who will ask you to clarify, because then you can really solidify your message. Someone who does not inherently understand what you are talking about is often the best audience, since they won’t already be in on the vocabulary and concepts you might be using.

Step Three: Ask yourself – what did I really mean to say here?

When that friend or trusted colleague asks you to clarify, that’s when it’s important to ask yourself what you really mean to say. All the fancy vocabulary words in the world won’t matter if you aren’t making sense. Dial it down a bit, get a sense of your message, and then plunge back in.

Step Four: Give it a couple of days – don’t do this last minute!

Whenever a friend asks me to take a look at their work, I always ask them how much time they have before they have to submit it. That will determine my scope of editing. Trust me, you don’t want someone to have to sugarcoat it and tell you everything is fine if you only have 20 minutes left before your deadline. In order to get honest feedback from yourself and others, give yourself at least a few days in advance.

Step FiveLet someone else revise/edit.

We’re programmed to complete words in our head, add in words to make sentences complete, and to think that our writing is immaculate. Maybe that’s some type of evolutionary development that is designed to get us through the writing stage. When it comes to editing, however, it’s no longer useful. Get another pair of eyes on it, stat!         

* Shameless Plug: That’s where a Storyologist (like myself) can be extremely helpful. If you're thinking about calling in the big guns for a writing project that needs editing, send me a message and let's get started!

Good luck with the editing and revising! Let me know how it goes!! Does anyone else have any great editing tips? Let us know in the comments below!