Let’s say your writing group or an editor has given you the high-level editorial input on your content that we talked about in episode 95. They’ve offered structural and developmental edits for your piece.
And you’ve incorporated those recommendations—deleting, rewriting, and rearranging material as needed so that your overall idea or message is stronger than ever. You’ve revised per their suggestions, and the organization of the piece reads more smoothly than before. It feels complete and clear.
It’s time to move to the next level.
Next-Level Edits: A Closer Look
It can be a bit discouraging to realize you aren’t done yet, but your project will always need another look—a closer look.
Now it’s time to refine your style through a careful reading. In this stage, you and anyone you invite to offer input can consider your work at the paragraph and sentence level, listening for pace, tone, and voice. You’re watching for usage issues. This is the stage when we consider each word choice and eliminate cliches. We pore over every semicolon and comma, watching for grammar and punctuation errors. We fact check.
This is the time for copyediting, line editing, and, eventually, proofreading.
I’ll link to some articles that distinguish among between these types of edits: the copyediting, line editing, and proofreading. As you learn about these labels, you’ll better understand the kind of attention your project needs at these stages.
HOCs then LOCs
You’ll be reminded how the high-order concerns, which I introduced as HOCs in episode 95, are high-level edits addressed first, and then come the copy edits and line edits, which fall under LOCs, known as lower-order concerns, or “later order concerns.” And I like that label—”later order concerns”—because it suggests that we do need to tackle such details as comma placement at some point. They aren’t “low” on the totem pole. Punctuation is important. When LOCs are known as later order concerns, it reminds us that attending to those details simply comes later in the process.
5 Ideas for How to Dig into Next-Level Edits Yourself
While enlisting the help of someone experienced with editing during this stage will provide an objective eye, you yourself can return to your work and attempt some self-editing. Try these five simple techniques to gain as much perspective and objectivity as possible when revisiting your draft:
- Set it aside
If you have the luxury of time and you’re not working against a tight deadline, set your project aside for a while: a day, a week, a month. Come back to it with fresh eyes.
- Print it out
I hate using paper when I don’t have to, but I almost always find mistakes on a physical copy of my writing that my eye or my brain would fill in or correct when viewing it on the screen. Also, I can stuff a printed copy into a bag or backpack and take it with me to mark up while I’m out and about.
- Read it aloud
I always read my work aloud and make notes directly on the copy as I seek a more natural expression of my ideas. If you can’t hear the glitches and hiccups as you read it yourself, consider recording it and listen back to take notes. Or have someone else read it to you and listen to where they struggle to work their mouth around the words—could be a clue to play with the phrasing or word choices in those spots.
- Create a master editing checklist
Keep a list of your pet words and phrases and use the “search” feature in Word, Scrivener, or Google Docs to track them down methodically. Revise as needed to rip them out and use fresh phrasing.
- Add to that master editing checklist
Expand your personal list to include other useless words that might slip into your work. Diane Urban’s list of words you should cut from your writing immediately is useful. As a sample, she warns we should eliminate qualifiers like “really,” “very,” “rather,” and “quite.” Collect words like these—words that at best add nothing and at worst steal strength from your writing—and add them to your master editing checklist. Pull it out in this self-editing stage. Use the search feature again to track and destroy.
How to Find Others to Offer Next-Level Edits
These are a few steps to making a good, solid pass at cleaning up your work. After you self-edit, invite another set of eyes to read and respond to your project. See what they catch as they dig into next-level edits, and learn from their insight.
I know writers sometimes struggle to find people to ask. Here are some simple ideas:
- Work with colleagues or peers in a writing group locally or online.
- Enlist the input of a writing friend in exchange for offering the same objective input on his or her next project.
- Ask someone from a class if they’d be interested in swapping projects for peer reviews.
- Seek professional input.
Working with paid writing instructors, editors, writing coaches, or book coaches can provide expert input—it might be exactly what you crave for your project. Trained to spot glitches and errors, these professionals can efficiently and effectively identify areas to improve.
Establishing a professional relationship will require a financial investment and formal agreement, but maybe that’s exactly what you need in order to gain next-level edits.
Whoever you turn to for input, make sure the person you’re working with knows how to dig into edits in the right order: from high-level edits to copyediting, line editing, and proofreading. And remember to do this yourself. With this approach, you’ll take your writing to the next level.
To listen to the full episode, click on the podcast player above or use subscription options below.
- Ep 93: How to Compose the Perfect First Draft
- Ep 94: Grammar Matters: Why Concern Ourselves with Commas?
- Ep 95: Focus on Your High-Level Edits First
- Ep 7: Search and Destroy
- Ep 44: Why Every Writer Needs a Buddy
- What is the Difference Between Copyediting and Line Editing (via NY Book Editors)
- Copy, Line, & Developmental Editing Explained (via Victoria Mixon)
- Levels of editing (via IPEd)
- Before You Submit: Some Tips for Self-Editing
- 4 Levels of Editing Explained: Which Service Does Your Book Need? (by Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas, via The Book Designer)
- Diane Urban’s List of words you should cut from your writing immediately
- Higher-Order Concerns (HOCs) and Lower-Order Concerns (HOCs) (Purdue Online Writing Lab – OWL)
- All podcast episodes
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