First Editing Class: Notes and Observations

Photo of a black cat named Raven

The cats remain fascinated by the classes. They can't figure out who I'm talking to.

The Editing class is split into three sections. In this first session, we focused on developmental, or “big picture,” editing.

Some people are taking the class in order to edit their own stuff, others to edit for other folks, a couple for a combination of that. We talked about what a developmental edit is intended to do, and how it’s different from a copy-edit. In fact, you want to avoid copy-editing (other than a couple of cases which I’ll get to in a minute) because often that sentence you’re tinkering with will end up discarded or substantially revised in the final version.

Honing your editing ability to where you can trust it is one way to free yourself up when writing. Instead of listening to the internal editor telling you that sentence isn’t perfect or that you need to check that name on Wikipedia before using it, you can assure that editor it will get its chance during the revision process and go on writing.

Developing a process also helps you know when to stop rewriting. I work from the big picture stuff in, moving to small sentence level details in a second or third draft. Usually my process goes like this:

  1. Bang out a first draft. It may have parenthetical directions like (expand on this) or (transition here) or (describe), but it is a complete story.
  2. (Optional but encouraged) Let it sit for a week or two. This is where procrastination can really bite you in the ass.
  3. Print out the draft and write all over it. This is my developmental edit, in which structures may get changes, sections moved (or eliminated), point of view or tense changed, etc. It’s also where all those parenthetical directions get fulfilled.
  4. Entering these changes onto the computer may involve some more tinkering as I do so, but generally I’m working towards another draft that I can print out.
  5. That draft gets printed out and edited again. This stage is where I read aloud and tinker at the sentence and paragraph level. I may changes names at this point, and I’ll do things like look for adverbs (as discussed in The 10% Solution).
  6. I will probably do another read aloud pass after that’s entered into the computer, depending on how hard a deadline is pressing.

More on developmental editing, what it is, how I do it, and how one needs to adapt editing to genres such as hard SF, dark fantasy, horror, etc, in another post.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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