“Red, the blood of angry pens; black, the marks of mistakes past…”

by Abby PonderĀ 

For almost all writers, editing is a fundamental aspect of the writing process. Without it, mistakes can be glossed over and points can remain unrefined. And while in a lot of cases editing is no one’s idea of a good time, it certainly doesn’t have to be the nightmare most people make it out to be.

Whenever I’m writing, my first draft is, to put it rather bluntly, a bit rough. Actually, it’s more than a bit; it’s generally so rough that I almost always refuse to let anyone else even glance at it. My first draft is usually a compilation of various outlines (a step outlined in a recent post) that have been tossed together into an assortment of paragraphs that are usually long and rambling with very little cohesion. It’s something resembling a paper, but it’s not there yet. Like I said, these initial drafts areĀ rough–but that’s okay.

Anne Lamott, most known for her novel Bird by Bird which highlights tips for successful writers of all genres, has a chapter in the aforementioned novel called “Shitty First Drafts.” In the chapter, Lamott explains that a first draft is just that: a first draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it is a starting point. The whole point of the first draft is to get words and ideas on paper, after all, and that is almost always the hardest part of writing: you have all these fantastic ideas, but you might not have a specific place to start or a way to tie them all together. However, between the help of your outline and your “shitty first draft,” you’ll begin to have an idea come together and slowly but surely that idea will begin to blossom.

So, after you’ve written that first draft, some people write another one… and then maybe another one after that. I know that I usually go through several drafts before I am finally satisfied.

My British Fantasy Literature paper rocking some Les Miserables lyrics, as one naturally does.
For example, I took a class last fall where I had to write a paper breaking down the concept of love in works of British Fantasy Literature. (Harry Potter was, unsurprisingly, incorporated into this assignment.) However, even though I intimately knew the subject matter, there were still a number of changes that needed to be made. A friend of mine helped me to put the editing process in perspective, made me take a step back and laugh at it, and the break from the seriousness was a tremendous help.
Editing, in my experience, is mostly about taking that step back and examining what the words staring back at you are trying to say. It’s akin to reading another person: they’re trying to say something, but it is up to you to decipher the meaning.
There are two things that I have found incredibly helpful in the editing process: (1) printing off the paper, and (2) reading it out loud.
While it is easy enough to edit a paper on the computer (and, admittedly, it does save some on printing costs), there is something about editing a paper on, well, paper that makes a huge difference. People tend to be more inclined to skim when reading online, and consequently it can be very easy to skip over the small mistakes–especially when you’re not on the hunt for a misplaced pronoun or a comma splice. When you print the paper out and literally put pen to paper, you’ll be surprised at how many things you see. And, like with my paper above, there is a sense of accomplishment that comes from seeing a marked up paper. Sure, it means you still have a ways to go, but it also symbolizes progress, and progress is never a bad thing.
Next, reading the text to yourself (or another person) can alter your perception of the words. Reading aloud forces you to interact with the paper and actively think about both the content and the style. Additionally, most people have a tendency to catch any misplaced words or confusing phrases when they’re hearing or speaking them. What sounds good in your head may not always work out loud, and this step can do a lot in terms of drawing attention to that.
Just make sure that whenever it seems like too much, and you feel as though you can’t make sense of the words anymore, take a break. Sometimes you need to give your brain some room to breath, and then you can come back ready to get back to work.
Comic by Debbie Ohi.
When you feel like you’re finished, though, or even if you’re stumped along the way, don’t forget to utilize the WKU Writing Center. While we are not an editing service, we will help walk you through any bumps in the road you may be having. Sometimes it’s nice to have a second opinion on things, too.
As always, you can schedule an appointment by clicking here and selecting a time that works well for you. We are also available for drop-in appointments, but those function under a first come, first serve basis.

Happy Writing!

This post was originally published on October 20, 2014.
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The power of proofreading

I’ve written a paper.
I’ve spent countless hours in front of the computer screen, typing, researching, citing, etc.
My eyes hurt.
My back hurts.
And the last thing I want to reread is my paper.
Save. Submit. Close.

Throughout my undergrad years I refused to reread what I wrote. I just could not do it. It wasn’t that I was lacking confidence in my writing; I reallydid not want to reread it. Maybe it was because I spent hours/days/weeks slaving over it and I was finally DONE. Then, when I received my paper back and saw my consequent grade, I would shrug, ignore the comments, and eventually start whatever other paper was due next. Yawn.

Once I was in graduate school, I realized what I was doing was not acceptable. Not only was my writing not growing, but it was bland, mediocre, and full of simple errors I could have caught if I was paying attention. So one day, after stressing for weeks over a paper that would make or break my grade in that class, I scrolled up to the top of my Word document and started reading my paper…out loud.

I had barely finished the first paragraph but had caught easily five grammatical errors [simple ones that are easy to breeze through], reworded some sentences to make them stronger, clarified what I meant on certain points, reorganized my thesis–it was incredible. And the best part? I sounded brilliant.

I know it is extremely hard to reread something you’ve just spent days working on. Once it’s done, it’s done. Saved. Submitted. Next please. But by taking 15 minutes out of your day to reread what you’ve written, you will notice things you’ve never noticed and start to identify writing habits and simple errors.

The majority of the time in the Writing Center, we will reread your paper with you. So why not save yourself some time and reread it before coming in? By catching your small errors before coming in we can spend more time in the session discussing other issues that we might not be able to get to if we’re stopping every five seconds to tell you a grammar rule. Rereading your paper ahead of time will build your confidence, expand your knowledge, and create understanding. We will gladly look over your paper for little things that your keen eye has missed, but you yourself know your brilliance better than we do. Prove to yourself that you’re a great writer. I know you are.

So reread!
It truly helps.
This is simply a little knowledge from me to you.
I hope it’s been beneficial!

-Olivia

This post was originally published on December 8, 2011.