When 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:
- Did you know it’s not a good idea to use “it” without an antecedent? Rather, using “it” with no clear antecedent makes for weak writing.
- “There is/are” isn’t always your best choice.
- “To be” can be a writer’s enemy
- Direct Address