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  • Writer's pictureShea Roberts

So, You Think You're Done Writing

Updated: Apr 7

At last, it’s happened: you’ve finished your piece. It might be a chapter, a short story, maybe a poem. Most importantly, it’s beautiful, it’s groundbreaking, it’s inspired, it’s…

nowhere near complete (sorry). But that’s okay! Now you can get to the exciting stuff: editing. Or you can view it as most writers I know do—as a dreaded but expected step. Editing has the capacity to turn good to great, carbon to diamond, and chaos to correct (grammatically speaking). Which means it’s incredibly important to make editing a part of your process. But where to start?

Global/Developmental/Substantive/Content/Structural Editing

There are lots of names for this type of editing, but what you’re doing is very simple. And, while there are no strict rules for the order you need to perform different kinds of editing in, it’s highly recommended (by me and industry professionals alike) that you begin here, as you’ll be looking at the biggest possible picture of your story. The questions you’ll need to answer with global editing include: does the piece make sense? Does it flow well? Are your ideas clearly developed and articulated? Are there any logic/plot holes? Are scenes/sections ordered properly? Are characters acting consistently throughout? Etc. 

For every step of editing, it’s wise to step away from your piece for at least several days, but especially for this step, you need to be able to see with new eyes. If that’s something you have trouble with, no worries! Ask a friend, a teacher, your parents, anyone really, to take a look and get back to you. What are the biggest questions, if any, they were left with, and where did they get lost?

Copy/Line Editing

Copyediting is frequently used as an interchangeable term with proofreading, but they ideally serve very different functions. Copyediting looks at the scenes or chapters within your story and makes sure that each individual one is working as it should. Characters need to be noted entering or leaving a room if they do so. We should be aware of the dimensions of the space your characters are in—can that many people fit? If someone picks something up, do they put it down? Is a character stretching in one sentence and lounging on the counter in another with no transition? Copyediting is all about consistency. If your piece is nonfiction, copyediting should also include a round of thorough fact-checking. 

Included within the inspection of each scene should be a review of your word choice, tense, phrasing, and so-on. The broadest strokes of grammar, in other words. You want to make sure that your tone is stable throughout your piece, that you have avoided using clichés, and that your run-on sentences have been cut down to size (there’s a cliché to avoid!). Take your time with this step, as doing so makes your piece that much more polished in the long run. 

Proofreading/Mechanical Editing

And now, for the dreaded grammar check. Plenty of English-speakers spend their entire lifetimes trying to keep track of all the rules that go into “correct” writing, and plenty more simply give up. But I promise, you can master this. A crucial part of proofreading is knowing what style guide to follow, and that largely depends on your genre. Books and historical research use Chicago. Students are likely familiar with APA and MLA, which belong largely to academic writing. AP style is the choice of journalists. Each style has a distinct set of rules, which can be frustrating to keep track of, but it also means there’s extensive instructions available for you to follow. Yay!

As you begin proofreading, you’re ensuring that your spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting are correct within the boundaries of your style guide. This can seem like a lot, so take advantage of your resources at the start: spell check and apps like Grammarly are not 100% right 100% of the time, but they certainly help. Overall, go little by little, and try reading your piece out loud as you go. You’d be surprised how many mistakes you catch when your brain is no longer allowed to skim over them. 

So, ta-da! There it is, a summary guide of all the steps waiting to bring your piece from merely “finished” to “complete.” And look at that, both of us made it to the end. I know editing can seem intimidating, but just think of the results—a piece that is written clearly and structured logically, with no holes in information or flow. Now it’s time to send it out into the world (but that’s a conversation for another time). Happy editing!

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