Writing the Decisive Draft

You have now fully developed your writing with the help of the feedback you’ve received from the demonstration draft. In this draft, you will first complete a thorough self-edit of your material to take your work as far down the road as you can. At the end of that process it will be time to make the decision to hire a professional to polish your work so that it shines. This is the work of an editor.

For the most part, beginning writers are unfamiliar with editors and what they do. More importantly, they are unaware of how essential it is that their book get good editing. Editors have acquired the specialized skills necessary to present your writing in a clean, crisp fashion that readers will recognize as good writing. Hiring a good editor is money well spent.

Become a good self-editor, first.

Learn these skills as well as you can.

Writing conveys meaning. Grammar is the structure within which meaning is communicated through writing. The process of editing focuses on monitoring correct use of grammar, cleaning up sloppy sentence structure, evaluating word choice, developing a style sheet to bring consistency to your piece of writing, and checking to make sure that your facts and references are all correct and well documented. These are the components of a tight piece of writing.

“OK, but if I’m going to pay somebody to do all the that, why do I have to do it, too?” Here are two good reasons why. First, it will save you money because your editor will be spending less time with your manuscript. Second, you will have gained a good deal of control over your own project. Here’s why.

The more care you put into editing your work, the more closely your writing says what you mean it to say. The closer you get to expressing the meaning you want to convey, the more likely an editor will not change that meaning as she cleans up the mechanical aspects of your manuscript.

Keep this in mind when you hire a graphic artist to do the cover of your book. The artist will ask you to describe the idea that you have for the cover. She will then give you two or three versions of what she thinks represents your idea. You will pick one of them and refine it with her several times in order to produce your book cover. Your graphic artist will initially return a book cover design that matches your idea IF you are very clear about communicating that idea to her. If your idea is vague, she will use her considerable creative talents to fill in the gaps, but what she produces might not be as close to that image in your mind’s eye.

Some tips for self-editing.

Read your writing out loud. Reading out loud causes you to hear your words. You will be able to hear the rhythm of your writing. Tuning into this rhythm, this word music, will help you develop your style, help your to keep the momentum of the flow of your writing. You will also hear when that rhythm is disrupted by faulty sentence structure or when the rhythm becomes monotonous or losses its meaning.

When you hear a weak spot, you can then go to work on fixing it. Chances are the problem lies within your syntax. Syntax refers to the structure of your sentences. Use the rules of syntax to rework problem sentences. You might want to refine your skills by diagramming some sentences. I know you haven’t done that since 7th grade!

Here are some questions you should be asking yourself. Are you clear on what is happening to whom? Are you using active verbs that cause the reader to become involved in your writing? Are you clear about how many items you are referring to in one sentence? Are you using punctuation correctly in order to bring clarity to the meaning of your writing?

What makes this the decisive draft.

You must now decide that it is time to hire out help. Remember, though, a professional editor is your friend. Her job is to polish your manuscript so that it shines. She will catch errors you did not even realize were errors. This person is also an extra pair of eyes that is not so familiar with the manuscript. She will not have the tendency to skip over a mistake because she thinks it says something. Just like the reader, she will only have the words themselves to work with.

Become familiar with the different kinds of editing, so that you will understand the process better. Discuss the level of revision you desire with your editor. I have prepared a brief description of each type.

Developmental or substantive editing

Here an editor comes along side an author early in the writing process to help to craft the message. Editing in this category includes help with story development, organization, and maybe even a significant portion of the writing itself. This type of editing would take place during the development draft stage of your manuscript.

Copy editing or Line editing

This is the type of editing that occurs during the decisive draft stage. An editor will read through your manuscript to accomplish all of the tasks discussed above. The revisions the editor makes are suggestions for the writer. The writer always has the final say over the content of the manuscript.

Proof reading

This occurs right before the formatted files go to print. A proof reader is looking for typos, misspellings, or any mistakes in the formatting itself before they are locked in stone by the printer. Although this comes later, don’t skip this crucial step in the production process!

What has been your experience with editing? What is your next move with your manuscript?

photo credit: ShuttrKing|KT via photopin cc

About David Bedell

David is a freelance editor, writer, and coach. He takes delight in helping others craft and release their life message in order to advance the kingdom of God. His love for Jesus informs all that he does.

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