How a Focused, Limited “Baby Edit” Can Help Improve A Writer’s Style

businessman-with-the-notebook-3-1362248-mWhen it comes to the quality of our writing–especially our fiction–it’s easy to overlook how even a small change can constitute a drastic improvement. Yes, this post is about that dreading editing phase!

But don’t worry: I’m not talking about in-depth, nitty-gritty content editing here. (That’s another post.) Not every editing pass needs to be, or should be, all about the structure of the story, continuity, and whether your characters are making believable choices.

Sometimes, “baby edits” are just as helpful. There are three times I personally would recommend these simpler, less drastic editing passes, although obviously, everyone writes differently, and your process might not match up with mine.

  • I write on pen and paper first sometimes. I’ll get a “baby edit” in while transcribing to the computer.
  • After a first draft, but before that read-through where I don’t change a thing (I take notes instead), is another opportunity for a “baby edit.” A baby edit here could make my read-through less distracting, allowing me to focus on story, on cohesiveness and plot/character development, rather than lack of polish. (NOTE: I have never done a baby edit here, but the idea makes sense.)
  • As part of a proofread after editing, in the final stages of things.

Particularly during transcription or at the end stages, baby edits are tremendously helpful to me. However, the downside to any editing before that read-through: I always end up cutting and rearranging a lot from my first drafts. This might render baby edits made before those cuts ineffectual, though practice editing and strengthening my sentence structure is never a full or true waste.

WHAT IS A “BABY EDIT”?

A “baby edit” is exactly what it sounds like: an easy, surface-level edit that shouldn’t be too invasive or too timely. If it’s either of those things, you aren’t doing a true “baby edit.”

A “baby edit” is meant to adjust and improve the flow and sound of your writing, without really affecting the story or its structure. Some examples of things I clean up during a “baby edit”:

  • WORDS REPEATED IN A SENTENCE OR PARAGRAPH. If I use the word “wall” three times in a short space, for instance, I try to find some way to reword my writing that is more varied, less bland.
  • GETTING RID OF EXTRANEOUS DIALOGUE TAGS AND DIRECT ADDRESS. Because I totally overuse both.
  • VARYING TRANSITIONAL PHRASES. I have a limited number of transitional phrases, like “then,” “next,” and “after that,” that I tend to beat into the ground.  This is why, even better than trading out one phrase for another, is:
  • ELIMINATING TRANSITIONAL PHRASES AND OTHER WORD CRUFT. When possible, I try to get away from such phrases altogether. Especially at the start of a sentence.
  • QUICK GRAMMAR FIXES. Dangling participles especially. I hate those suckers. If you’re not familiar with how to recognize them, here’s a fast and easy guide.
  • MAKING PASSIVE VOICE ACTIVE. Because this never weakens your writing.
  • MAKING A MORE PRECISE WORD CHOICE. Just yesterday, transcribing from my notebook, I changed the sentence, “That took their attention” to “That claimed their attention.” Much cleaner and more specific.

Baby edits don’t have to be permanent. They generally serve, for me, to fix the most distracting of my bad style tendencies in a first draft so that I can then go on to focus on big picture stuff a bit more easily. After that, of course, I always return to the nitty-gritty of grammar and “how things sound.”

Do you like “baby edits”? Have you found that you do an editing pass at some point focused on those things?

Here is a quick list of some of the writing tics, or grammar issues, you might want to focus on in a baby edit:

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39 responses to “How a Focused, Limited “Baby Edit” Can Help Improve A Writer’s Style

  1. A great and very helpful post, thank you. ~ Michael

  2. I tend to do baby edits a lot, probably not the best thing for productivity though. Trying to get more focused now and leave the baby edits obsessiveness behind. Great post!

    • That is a GREAT point. At some point, we DO have to leave the baby edits behind and stop striving for an ideal of perfection that is unattainable given language’s limitations. I am guilty of that myself!

  3. Reblogged this on Mrs C Writes Blog.

  4. I love baby edits! I also like to write a first draft by hand and I find the transcribing to computer/baby edit process makes the whole editing process much easier. Great post 🙂

  5. Reblogged this on Being an Author and commented:
    Your final editor will thank you for this too!

  6. That would make the editor happy. But I’m leaving in the semi-colon bombs just for fun.

  7. I’m working on doing those. One thing I did for my third book was list the words that I commonly use. Then I use the ‘Find’ function in Word to uncover how often I use them and change up 70-80% of them. I think every author has that handful of words that they use out of habit without realizing it, so the ‘baby edit’ can be used to fix that.

  8. Great post 🙂 I always write pen and paper and edit as I type up, I find it works out really for me.

  9. Yeah, gotta agree, sometimes to keep the flow and rhythm of the story, a baby edit is best.

    And my fav you mention is “how things sound.” If it comes down to it, it’ll trump all but lack of being understood.

    I think the only thing I’d add is, having started having audio books made of some of my work late last year, dialog tags and such have a whole other function. I almost wonder if, at times, an “audio” version of a book might be useful, but that would be so much extra work! lol!

    So, in my final edits, I try to balance speed and grace and enjoyment of the reading text, with how it conveys to someone speaking the words outloud (and without the benefit of also being able to show the narrator’s facial expressions, as in a play or movie.)

    Anyway, as usual, fun useful article, thanks Victoria.

    • I love what you say about “how things sound” trumping all but being understood. That is SO true. And I agree that speed and grace with enjoyment is the key and what we all aspire to. Not an easy balance to find, but well worth the work!

  10. I love your list, Victoria! I wish more writers would do a baby edit for the items on your list—all too often I’m contacted about editing a manuscript that has a great story buried in a draft that could use a baby edit for every one of those items, yet the author believes the manuscript “only needs a light proofread.”

    • I can’t say I’m not guilty of that myself. I think I may need to temporarily unpublish my trilogy (or make it unavailable) while ratings are still good and then do some heavy editing before hiring an editor to do more. Haha! You might be hearing from me soon!

  11. I usually do baby edits of a draft before sending it to my beta readers. Then, once one or two readers have read and the others are busy, I come up with the complete draft overhauls I’m known for. But until that point hits, all I can really manage are baby edits–otherwise, my brain goes, “It’s fine! Otherwise, wouldn’t you have changed it already?”
    Brains are weird. So is writing. But it’s our living, eh?

    • It is SO our living, haha! it really is crazy how our brains do things like that!

    • Dorian, great point about doing baby edits before sending to beta readers.

      Personally those little things don’t distract me while I’m looking for larger edits, so they seem like a productivity drain if I’ll be hacking away at the manuscript anyway. So baby edits especially for betas is something to consider. Then again, I always try to polish it up before sending it to betas or editors. I just don’t think of that process as a baby edit.

  12. Nice post, Victoria. I happen to be going through this exact process on a short story I’m going to submit.

  13. I like the term, baby editing. But that is a slippery slope. Fixing grammar or spelling can lead to moving a sentence around and then the paragraph just does flow right and the scene would work better if I moved it here.

    I’m still trying to figure out how to edit. I even got a book on it. Actually, I have three books on editing. Maybe one of them will actually help me.

    Thanks, Silent

  14. This is a great post. I despise editing with a passion. It’s mainly grammar errors that I have a problem with.

  15. Pingback: 4 Reasons Typos Matter In Your Published Novel | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  16. Excellent tip! I’m actually doing a baby edit right now but didn’t realize it 🙂

  17. This advice might be the trick I need. Thanks.

  18. Pingback: 4 Reasons Authors Shouldn’t Edit While they Write | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  19. Pingback: 4 Reasons to Keep Going When Editing Gets Tough | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

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