Editing can be such a daunting prospect that it’s often hard to know where to start. I know I have that problem. When it comes to fear and/or laziness, you’re on your own for editing. But if you’re not sure how to edit in a systematic and effective way, I have a strategy that can help.
The first part involves something that most writers can do: getting feedback. After writing your story, put it aside for six weeks, then show it to people you value for their honesty. Look over the work yourself too— you’ll likely have new, critical insights for it after six weeks of not thinking about it. At this point, you’ll have plenty of suggestions for your work. How do you go about implementing changes?
You start with a spreadsheet. I tend to use Microsoft Excel for this. Each change you want to make will take up its own row, with three columns total in the sheet. In the first column, type in the page number for the place where an edit’s needed. In the second column, write down the change you want to make. In the third column, you’ll put down a 1, a 2, or a 3.
What do those numbers mean? They’re rankings. A 1 signifies a change that’s small, usually on a word-to-word basis. If you misspelled “colonoscopy” on page 13, for example, a line in your spreadsheet might read “pg. 13; change colonosopy to colonoscopy; 1.” A 2 in your row means you’ll have to do a bit more work, either changing something or adding a detail on a sentence or paragraph level. If your character needs more description, then one line of your spreadsheet might read “pg. 4; add (She looked small while sitting in the driver’s seat, but nowhere else); 2.” 3s are the big ones, the important underlying problems that can break a story. This is where you write notes like “pg. 1; make Suzi a more compelling character; 3.” Still seems daunting, right? But here’s the thing. If you’re making changes from the #1s upward, you’ll have already done some of the work towards fixing the bigger stuff. Implementing the changes for “pg. 30; add Suzi’s reaction to the climax; 2” will help towards fixing “pg. 1; make Suzi a more compelling character; 3.” That big problem is partially a problem due to details— fix that, and you’re well on your way to making a good story even better.
I’ve included the spreadsheet I used on “The College Station All-Male Feminist Union” in this link, The College Station All-Male Feminist Union Editing Checklist. Now you know what your spreadsheet should look like in the end. Happy editing!