Editing & Coaching
The Poetry and Math of Editing
I practice--and teach--a technique I call Organic Editing, which analyzes drafts to find what they are trying to say, then works on structure and organization to best express those stories and ideas. Once these elements are set, we can turn to paragraph-level and sentence-level issues like transitions, phrasing, explanations, and story elements. I use this same technique on fiction and nonfiction, on both creative and technical writing. Creative writers are often surprised to find out how much logical and analytical thinking is necessary in the writing process, especially in the editing stage. Meanwhile, journalists and business and technical writers can be amazed at how much intuitive and creative thinking is required, and how they don't always have to know exactly what they want to say before they start writing. My philosophy, and my approach to writing, editing, teaching, and coaching, is that the writing process contains both art and math, that things need to add up as well as astonish.
For writers who want to improve their skills as well as their manuscripts, coaching combines editing, teaching, and advising. We can meet on site or online. I can work with writers before they've written a word, to help them find and outline their ideas, plan an approach, and create a schedule--with deadlines. Or we can work once a draft is complete, analyzing its needs and what to focus on in the next drafts.
What kind of editing do you need?
Editors (politely) argue all the time about how to describe and categorize the various types and stages of editing. Here's my take.
Sometimes called substantive or structural editing, this is big-picture editing, focusing on content and organization. It should be the first step in the editing process. What are you saying--or trying to say--and how are you saying it? What is the main point of this essay or report, and what are the sub-points? Where is the story in this story? And have you presented the information or told the story in the best order?
At this stage we work on:
Developing and deepening story line and narrative arc
Strengthening characters, settings, running themes, and other story elements
Clarifying key points, take-aways, and conclusions
Finding, condensing, and deleting redundant sections
Examining structure and moving sections, scenes, and paragraphs to increase clarity or heighten drama
Balancing scene and summary, showing and telling, examples and conclusions, evidence and interpretation
After you've nailed down the big-picture issues, it's time to go through the manuscript line-by-line, focusing on sentence-level issues to clarify meaning, polish language and rhythm, and develop tone.
At this stage, we work on:
Bolstering details and descriptions
Increasing precision in word choice and phrasing
Varying sentence structure and length
Developing voice and tone
Tightening prose and eliminating unnecessary filler
Improving transitions and flow
Creating compelling openings and closings
Copy editing (also called copyediting)
This is nitty-gritty, word-by-word editing for grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage, and style, using standard style guides ( such as Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Stylebook), and in-house corporate or publication guides. We're talking hyphens, capitalization, commas, and italics. Copy editing can overlap with line editing, and might include tightening language and reducing wordiness. This is the last stage in the editing process, and in publications, a professional copyeditor takes over from the developmental editor at this point.
In less formal settings, the copyedit can be combined with the line edit and might be done by the same person.