Content editing is the part of writing that takes an author from their ‘bad first draft’ to their ‘good final version’.
It’s also called ‘polishing’, sometimes ‘crafting’. But it’s all the same thing – it’s about taking that raw draft and reviewing the material. For me it’s the fun part of writing. But it’s also a process. Floundering through it absorbs time – time that those of us on deadlines seldom have.
Direction and system can help. The biggest time-sink when editing is getting half way through a detailed re-work only to discover something’s fundamentally adrift with structure.
On my experience the best way to discover this – and, for that matter, the other content editing issues – is to look at the work from the over-arching perspective, as a complete object. Some authors write by polishing every sentence to finish point, then moving on to the next. The problem with this “detail first” approach is that it loses perspective; all the author focuses on is individual parts, without stepping back and visualising the whole work as a single entity.
To speed up the whole process – and get a better quality overall – the trick is to get that wider perspective. Hence the importance of a complete “bad first draft”. Then you can deal with the content in multiple passes over the whole document, whatever its length.
It’s a technique of the computer age – word processors make it easy. Earlier authors didn’t get that luxury without a lot of re-typing.
I usually ask these questions – and implement them, in order.
1. What is my broad intent with this piece of writing? Does the draft meet it structurally, from beginning to end? What can I do to adjust that?
2. Now I’ve got the structure right, time for that closer detail. Does the draft meet that intent in detail (sentences and phrases)? How can I amend that?
3. Working down to even closer detail – is the tone consistent – the style? If not, make it so. This can sometimes take more than one revision pass.
It also helps, if you have the time, to put the manuscript into a metaphorical drawer for a day or four – then repeat the three steps above.
For me, at least, that process-from-overview, followed by breaking the content editing down into a system which deals with the largest scale aspects first, then moves on progressively to detail, means that the fundamental purpose – and structure – will be right before I start monkeying with the wording.
Does a process of this kind work for you?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014
Coming up: more writing tips, proof-editing tricks, fun science and humour. Watch this space.