Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Write it; then edit it

I've learned a few tricks about editing over the years. The most obvious is to read the story aloud. Your ear will hear the tangled and mangled syntax, and you'll hurry to fix it.

Another obvious trick is to write a story, edit it quickly and put it away for either a few minutes, hours or days. That depends on your deadline. Then you go back with a fresh eye and catch all the mistakes you missed the first time.

I picked up another trick at a newspaper in North Carolina. My editor had me read a story forward, then read it backward, paragraph by paragraph. When you read a story forward, you might miss mistakes because your mind fills in the blanks. Read it backward, and the mind can't play tricks on you; you hear the typos and rough writing.

William Safire, the journalist and writer, knew a bit about editing when he said, "If you re-read your work, you can find on re-reading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by re-reading and editing." In fact, he explained it eloquently.

Why tell writers to edit their stories? They don't want to edit them. They want to hand it in and go to the next story. Or they want to go home. I've worked with at least two writers like this. One almost got away with it; he was a terrific writer. The other needed all the help he can get.

Me? I'm a good writer. But I also realize I'm a better editor. I'll go back and edit this blog tomorrow because I know I can make it sharper, tighter, more eloquent. But I need to get it "on paper" before I forget.

Why do I edit? I'm compelled to improve my writing and yours.

Entries from The Dog Blog
Blog entries from The Auto Racing Journal
(a book of great stories about the Intimidator)
(the book of great NASCAR stories)

More blog entries by Tom Gillispie

Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie

1 comment:

  1. Because my first writing job was for radio, I always read my stuff aloud. So it was no surprise when my first newspaper editor told me the same thing. I do it to this day, no matter the medium.