Thursday, May 22, 2014

Targeted Wave Editing© Improves Chances Of A Quality Final Document

Since 1990, I have spent a lot of time working in the education community, and especially in the area of curriculum and instruction development. Much of this work has focused on assisting those in education to improve their curriculum development and instruction in a host of literacy skills including reading and writing. It never fails though. When I run workshops on writing I get a room full of horrified faces when I tell people to "not edit everything". If we are editing someone else's manuscript, whether it is an academic paper, a poem, a short story or a novel, I strongly recommend to NOT edit everything.

Let me explain.

We have all heard the expression, pick your battles to win. It is the same approach when it comes to editing. It all comes down to focusing your attention on a document in a single area and really "going for it." When I teach these workshops, I call this approach, Targeted Wave Editing©. In simple terms - pick an issue and edit for that.

O.K. now let me take this a step further.

I am not saying to not edit for everything in a project throughout the editing process. The twist is that each round of edits I do focuses only on one, or a small number of areas of concern. When I come back for a second, third or who knows how many different rounds, I focus on completely different things. Here is the rationale for it. As someone editing, our brain simply cannot handle the number of variables that are in play when we read a project. As a result, if we tried to get to everything on a single pass, we would often have contradictory comments and changes, the depth of changes would not be there and, in the end, we are making more work for ourselves. The editing after this will become pretty repetitive and we might end up reverting back to original ideas.

For the person receiving the critique, this is also too much too handle. When I am working with educators, I point out the simple fact that if I did mark everything on a beginning student learning the process, the odds are the school drop-out rate would hit record numbers. We would really feel pathetic. If you want to practice this, take your current work in progress and run a test. Open up your spell and grammar checker and change the setting to GRAMMAR AND STYLE
If you are unclear how to do this, right click on the top of the MSWord page where all of the icons are, click CUSTOMIZE QUICK ACCESS TOOLBAR and then go to Proofing. Change the pull down menu for Writing Style to GRAMMAR AND STYLE.

Now run your story through it.

Unless you are an amazing grammar guru and really did check everything as you wrote, you will end up with more wiggly lines under everything you wrote. You will feel pathetic. And, if you are working toward a deadline, feeling this way is not the way to go.

When it comes to Targeted Wave Editing© the goal is simple. Edit your story in "waves" and focus only on small portions. It really doesn't matter what you look for and in what order, but keep it simple. I personally think you work from big to small.

  1. Read for plot issues - Is the story heading in the right direction.
  2. Read for simply narration - Are you showing and not telling?
  3. Read for dialogue - Are these people sounding "real"?
  4. Read for character development - Do we know enough about each of the characters?
  5. Read for transitions - Does this flow smoothly between scenes and chapters.
  6. Read for head-hopping and point of view.
  7. Read for just one character at a time.
  8. Read for grammar and formatting.
  9. Read for missing holes in anything.
When I am working with anyone and their manuscript, I often ask (or hope they have told me) what is that one thing you want me to really look for. Just having an author say " Can you fix it" isn't enough. It is for the same reason that I am trying hard to push for changes in the Romance Writers of American RITA judging that goes beyond a "What do you think?" criteria. This gives us nothing to work for.

Look, editing takes time, but if you focus like this with a Targeted Wave Editing© approach, you will find that, although you do have to check it numerous times, it will fell like it is moving much quicker.


  1. Thanks, Scott. My revision process is more of a Hedge-Clipping approach. First off, I tend to overwrite, so I just keep going through and cutting, over and over again, until I feel there's nothing left to cut. But I like your idea of doing multiple reads with different foci. This could work when critiquing a novel you've read and know is supposed to be a Critics' Choice but you're left unsatisfied. This happened to me last with Maguire's "Wicked," possibly both the best and worst novel I've ever read (aside from Remembrance of Things Past). I'd say Maguire easily could have revised with #1, #2, #4, and #5 in mind. I never heard the term "head-hopping" (#6) before, but he may be guilty of that, as well. Along with #4 and #7, I would add something about consistency or understandability of motive. In "Wicked," the Witch of the West just doesn't make any sense. Spoiler alert: Toward the end of the novel, she is determined to stop Dorothy delivering the ruby shoes to the Wizard, but takes a detour to murder her old headmistress and then attend a dinner party to joke about it, before deciding to return to her castle, since Dorothy has probably reached the Emerald City by now anyway. Oh, well. I'm sidetracking, I know. But this is just an example of how using your critique system with published novels can possibly enhance your objectivity when it comes to your own writing.

  2. Thank you, Scott. Great list and perfect timing for me. I'm editing for point of view right now, but catching rough transitions too.
    Have your written about transitions before? I don't see it listed on your side bar.