Despite the didacticism inherent in the subject matter, this book doesn’t prescribe how you should edit your work. Instead, it leads you down the path of self-discovery, so you can uncover your own weaknesses, and work, as an increasingly experienced editor of your own work, towards cleaner, clearer and better writing. The steps are straightfoward and help you cover just about everything, but the process isn’t easy.
Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
Write it Right:
The Ground Rules for Self-Editing Like the Pros
By Dawn Josephson and Lauren Hidden
2005, 144pp, pb, ISBN 0-9744662-6, $17.95
Publishing a book is no longer expensive. Anyone can do it, and everyone seems to be. What is expensive however, and what many authors make the mistake of skimping on, is hiring an editor. That isn’t only an issue for self-published books either. In order to get a decent publishing contract, manuscripts have to be near perfect. However wonderful, poetic and rich the characters, the ideas or the writing in general, if a book needs extensive (or even relatively minor) editing, it won’t be chosen. So learning the art of editing is crucial for modern writers. You could, of course, hire a professional at high cost, but for a mere $17.95, Josephson and Hidden provide some very simple and useable techniques for doing it yourself. Of course there is the obvious financial benefit, but self-editing has other benefits. Firstly, even if you hire someone, the chances are, aside from a line proofread, their advice will be merely guidance, and you’ll still need to do the hard work. Secondly, you are the only one who knows what your intentions are, and self-editing allows you to retain complete control of your manuscript. Even if you are taken on by a big publishing house and get an editor, the more polished your work is, the easier it will be for them to clean up any last little errors. As the authors clearly state, anyone, even those whose writing is limited to business letters or letters to their school board can benefit from improved editing skills. For those writing full length manuscripts, skills in self-editing aren’t optional.
The book is fairly short, simply and clearly written, and follows the clean structure of Other “Ground Rules” publications. Each chapter begins with the “Ground Rules” which talks about the core of the section, and is followed by real-life illustrations and examples, turning points or questions to help with the self-discovery/reflection process, frequently asked questions, and key points. Bullet points, graphics, exercises with blank lines to fill in, and checklists are all used liberally to lighten the text and signal that this book is meant to be used immediately as a workbook. The book contains four steps which can be used in most editing projects, and the more these steps are used, the faster and better writers will be at using them. They begin with knowing what your own particular writing challenges are. These are errors that are specific to your writing and repeated regularly. The book contains a test to help you identify your gaps in grammar, difficulties that you have with sentence structure, overuse of passives, run ons, word repetition and so on. It may surprise you (as it did me) how basic and consistent you are with your problems as you work through some of your existing pieces. As the authors state, knowing where your regular problems lie is half the battle, not just in editing, but in becoming a better writer in general.
Other steps include creating your own personalised editing checklist (based on the list made in step one), changing perspective/stance from writer to editor, reading through the text several times for different purposes, reading through from back to front or choosing sentences at random, getting a colleague to proofread, and read the work aloud to you, and printing out a clean copy for the final proofread. The casual, easy to follow text may make this book appear relaxed, but the prescriptions are anything but. A good editing job means working through the entire text many times – once for each of your regular problems and several more times for good measure. If you do what Write It Right suggests, you will certainly improve your prose; probably to at least the same level as a professional editor. You’ll also be strengthening your writing skills, so that your work needs less editing in general.
The tone of the book is light and affirming, with plenty of positive reinforcement like “Congratulations, you’ve now…,” “go for the gold,” and inspirational quotations. Appendices cover things like how to do a quick edit, what not to do, some basic rules of grammar and usage, and checklists. Despite the didacticism inherent in the subject matter, this book doesn’t prescribe how you should edit your work. Instead, it leads you down the path of self-discovery, so you can uncover your own weaknesses, and work, as an increasingly experienced editor of your own work, towards cleaner, clearer and better writing. The steps are straightforward and help you cover just about everything, but the process isn’t easy. You still have to work through the writing, time and time again, which is the heart of any editing process–there’s no substitute for it. Good editing/revising is the one thing which differentiates great work from average work. Writers who make the techniques in this valuable book part of their regular writing routine will most certainly stand out in a very crowded field, and that, of course, is the name of the game.