Writers are adept at painting pictures with words. There are bold and colorful strokes for an ecstatic passage; more subtle ones for a paragraph filled with tension or mystery. Like every piece of art, your writing will benefit from an editor’s touch. And if you’re editing your own work, it’s important to know how to edit like an artist for maximum impact.
I paint and draw as well as write, so editing like an artist comes naturally to me. If you want to learn how, here are a few things to keep in mind.
First, remember that every creative person is different. What works for me may not work for you, and that’s part of what makes our world so colorful, crazy, and unpredictable — just the way I like it. After all, it’s not very creative to simply follow the rules. Remember, you can modify and test everything until you find what suits you and your special style of writing best.
When I paint, I lay down a charcoal sketch first and then put brush to canvas, but when I write, it’s a whole different story. I’m what many writers call a “pantser”, or a writer who writes without an outline, or in my case, any inkling of where I’m going to begin with. That characteristic means that’s one less element to consider when deciding how to edit.
When I paint, I lay on great swathes of color to determine the general structure and direction of the painting. Then I edit by adding details in subtle layers. If I end up with too many details in some areas and the painting looks busy, I simply paint over them. In writing, I take similar steps. I write in a kind of stream-of-consciousness manner that I liken to those colorful areas on my canvas. Because of this, I don’t worry about how to edit while I’m in the midst of it — I just let my writing flow without regard to grammar, diction, or plot details.
I begin detailing after I get that first draft out. First, I make a fact sweep to check that data is cohesive throughout the story. I decide where more plot or character details are necessary and add them. I create subplots if the story seems weak and weave them in. Finally, I add the embellishments: additional descriptive language and dialogue, tweaks on existing passages, and maybe a scene or two.
Then, I’m ready for the final edit. When deciding how to edit your completed work, don’t discount the idea of sending it out for a proper proofreading. While I usually manage a quick clean-up of grammar, spelling, and punctuation myself, I always get a proofreader to check it over after me. After all, I’ve looked at the document dozens of time by now and my eyes are not as sharply attuned to errors as someone who’s seeing it fresh.
No matter what your writing style, treat your manuscript like a work of art in a way that seems intuitive to you. Get the big parts down and then pencil in the details. See the structure of the story as a painting of many elements and arrange them in a pleasing way for the best composition. When you do, you’ll find your writing becoming more colorful, compelling, and creative.
See you on the next page!