If you want to get your stories published, you’ll need to walk awhile in the editing stage. Different people handle editing in different ways. For some, editing is a one time event. Sit down, fix stuff, send it out. For others, it’s a process which can take weeks. I usually have a series of steps I go through to get a piece edited, polished and ready to kick out of the nest.
Step 1 – Get a Second Opinion
As a writer, it’s hard for me to pinpoint the flaws in my stories. I’m so close to them that it blinds me. I know what a character means when they say something vague, but can’t tell if maybe they said it in too vague a manner. I may look at the middle of my story and wince, thinking, there’s just something off here. But most of the time, I can’t point out the problem.
That’s where getting a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) opinion comes in. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other writers and get some help. Allowing someone else to look at your story and give you feedback/critiques will allow you to look through their eyes. See what they see. They can help you find the problems that might be keeping you out of your favorite publication.
To get a second opinion, you can reach out to beta-readers. Beta-readers are usually writing friends who, as writers, know you want more than just “wow, that’s good”. They’re willing to read your story and help you see what’s wrong. Usually done via email or sometimes in person, this is a good way to get a core group of trusted individuals to help you see your story from another viewpoint.
Another route is critiquing groups, either live or on the internet. I’m involve in a local writer’s group that meets once a month at the local bookstore/cafe. We send stories in a week before we meet and then gather together to discuss the flaws and merits of each story. If you’re new to getting your story critiqued, you may find this route a bit unnerving and difficult to handle at first. It’s easy, as a new writer, to be hurt by the words of your critiquers. These stories are, after all, our children. Parts of ourselves woven into fiction and it does hurt when someone says it has a giant ugly wart on its nose. Still, it is a necessary part to growing.
For the first ten or eleven years of my writing, I didn’t share my stories much with other writers. Just my family. I got the typical, “oh that’s amazing” response. Which is very kind of them, but it didn’t help me learn much. But the moment I stepped out and started getting responses from other writers? Well, my writing just grew exponentially.
If you’re a new writer, I’m going to recommend you join up with Scribophile before joining a local writing group. Scribophile is an online critiquing community which allows you to post your stories after critiquing enough other stories. There’s a wonderful mix of writers on Scrib, coming from every genre, all over the world, from newbie authors to professionals all in one place. Here you’ll encounter a mix of opinions and it might be a touch overwhelming at first, but you’ll get feedback and support that will probably surprise you. I know it surprised me.
But on to my steps for editing, after receiving feedback from beta-readers and critiques on Scribophile, I usually have a range of opinions on overall story arc problems and little nit-picky grammar/spelling/word choice issues. Which is great, I then jump to…
Step 2 – Re-Write/Revision
If a lot of beta-readers or critiquers mentioned overall problems in the story arc, I’ll begin revision. A lot of big name writers will recommend re-writing. Revision, revision, revision, they say. I’m going to be honest and say I’m not a big Re-Writer. I just can’t write the same story all over again. I lean more towards revising a section – certain scenes that felt off, changes to a character’s reactions.
As far as all out re-writing goes, I’ve only done it two or three times – and only when I was unable to finish the story at all because there was something fundamentally wrong with it that kept bugging me. That being said, there is nothing wrong with this approach. Just save a copy of your original draft – just in case you end up not liking the changes you’ve made.
Before you make any changes based on responses from readers, make sure they don’t go against your gut. People have different tastes, different styles and wildly different opinions. In the end, you’re the writer. You have to do what feels right to you. Now if every single reader comes back and says you have a problem with such-and-such, well then you know you probably do. Because people don’t often agree on much.
After you’ve made any larger revisions, you can move to…
Step 3 – Tweaking/Polishing
Next, I always get into the line-edits. I go through a story once, twice, a few times and cut out words, phrases, paragraphs that don’t work right. I’ll change a word here, put a stronger verb there, straighten out some dialogue way over there and generally don’t do massive editing changes at this point. Occasionally, I’ll go so far as to change a story from past to present tense or from first person to third person, but that’s about the largest edits I make in this stage.
Rereading the story a few times at this point, especially out loud or using a program that will read it to you (I haven’t been able to find a great one, but I use Speakonia because I can have it read large sections of text at a time – and it’s free!), will really help you polish this piece up until its ready for submission.
If you want, you can get another reader, just to double check. If you’re confident you’ve caught every typo, straightened out all the problems and generally made that piece glow as much as it possibly can, then it’s time to select a market (unless you were writing for a specific market all along!).
Look for another post from me (around Tuesday probably) next week. I’m excited to really dig into the choosing a market section. I’ve discovered a lot of wonderful places to submit to over the past two years and I can’t wait to share them with you.
While we wait for that, please feel free to comment and let me know editing strategies, websites and tools that work well for you. What’s your process? Is it wildly different from mine? Do you find yourself editing and editing until you can’t stand the story anymore or do you take a quick look and submit?
Thanks for reading!