There are various types of writing and levels of editing, which I’ve talked about in another post. One thing to remember is that non-fiction, and business documents and reports, are very different from fiction (novels and short stories) and other creative work. I specialise in editing non-fiction and business-related writing, so I’ll talk about these.
The writing process
Editing at the same time as you’re writing can break your flow. As Ernest Hemingway said, “Write drunk. Edit sober.” While that’s not necessarily advisable for either our health or the quality of our writing, it’s good advice to focus on one thing at that time.
Writing is a creative act; you want to get all your thoughts and ideas down, and trying to edit them at the same time impedes that process, frustrates you, makes everything take twice as long – and you can lose ideas in the process.
It’s much better to write the whole document, put your piece aside for a while, and then come back and edit once you’ve had a day or so to distance yourself from what you were thinking at that time. (Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats is an interesting read that talks about separating the creative and analytical/critical processes.)
Reviewing your writing
It’s an excellent idea to re-read your writing yourself, even if you’re planning on sending it to a professional editor. In reviewing your work you may see an idea that didn’t quite come across as you meant it to, or where you’ve used the wrong word because the phone rang as you were writing it, or a key sentence that’s disappeared because you knocked your coffee over or you had to save in a hurry to get to a meeting. You may decide that some points you thought were perfect at the end of your writing actually work better moved further up, or introduced earlier; this is an opportunity for you to test your writing against what’s in your head, and what you thought you’d written, and to see how you can improve it.
Once you’ve had a look over and made your changes, hand it to someone else to look at – a friend or colleague; someone who will read what you’ve written, and tell you anything that doesn’t make sense to them. If you don’t have the time or budget to go to a professional editor, this step is essential; you must have someone else read your document. Even as a professional editor and writer, I always ask a friend to read what I’ve written before I publish or send it.
Obviously, I’d recommend sending your document to a professional editor next – especially if you haven’t been able to find a friend or colleague to take a look at it for you.
As I’ve mentioned before, an editor will see your document or report as a product representing your business, rather than you personally. A friend or colleague might be worried about upsetting you by pointing out what they didn’t understand, or they thought could be re-worded, but it’s an editor’s job to help polish your document to best engage your clients and deliver your message.
A lot of people feel that an editor is there to catch them out, and tell them how they’re wrong – but this isn’t the case at all. You can read about what a professional editor actually does, and my particular editing process. I’ll make suggestions, you review them, and if you don’t feel they work, we work together to figure out a solution that does. An editor is there to help you and your document look as good as you can. If you look good, I’m doing my job!
A final step in making a really polished professional document is looking at your formatting. Hopefully you’ve used a template and styles from the start, but it’s not too late, and this step will make all the difference to how your document finally looks. Styles are a quick and easy tool that will let you change all your headings from, say, green font to bold black. I’ve talked a bit about Word styles and how to use them in Formatting using Word styles.
If you want to know more about formatting, or don’t have the time to do it yourself, drop me a line.