Editing: Mark big, mark lots, mark often

Some say the editing process is where the true mastery of the work is performed.

I tend to see it a different way. For me, the true mastery of creative writing with characters and plot is the work done before the actual writing. For me, it’s the character backstories and back-plot which make or break the quality of what I call finished.

However, obviously the editing process after my first draft is highly important, so here is a quick write up of how I go through it with any of my scripts. I’ve written a post about leaving the first draft in a drawer and not touching it for a month. Let’s assume I’ve already done that. Now I’ve pulled out my first draft and grabbed a handful of colored pencils or pens and a permanent marker to being editing.

I ALWAYS edit my first draft when it’s been printed out on paper. I don’t know why, but for me it’s far easier to catch typos and other major character or plot mistakes or inconsistencies when I see the work on paper. I don’t catch half as many mistakes or needed changes when I’m viewing a PDF copy on my devices. I also keep my printed draft with me almost all the time. Life gets in the way for all artists and creative people. It’s inevitable. My time devoting to this part of the process I perform ANY time I have a spare chunk of time. I’ll work on editing when my kids are in their dance classes. I’ll edit while in the car waiting to pick up my kids from school.

When I’m editing I take an approach to it as if I am being paid by the author to make the script better. When I have my pens out, I mark something on each page. Anything. I’m convinced there’s always something that needs to be corrected on every page whether it’s a spelling or typo error or a line of dialogue that needs changing, added or omitted. If a page doesn’t have a revision mark on it, I missed something. That is my basic approach.

There is also a reason for using different colored pens. I color code my edits depending on what needs to be revised. If I’m editing a stage direction, I’ll use say green to make notes. If it’s a change in dialogue, I’ll use say red. If it’s a revision which ties one part of the script to something in a later or previous scene, I’ll use purple and I’ll noted which page that note is connected to so I know to look for the other scene and match the appropriate changes, also noting the corresponding page number.

By the time I get done editing, the first draft usually looks like a road map legend. Colorful and thoughtful looking, and I am confident my changes have been well processed.

The last step to my editing process and typing in my changes to the original file. However, to make sure I don’t accidentally omit something I should keep when I edit the second draft, I “Save as” the file under the same name with the number of the draft in the file name…so the new file would be “skininthegames2,” for example. Then I have my first draft still in tact to pull material I’d like to re-add if I feel it’s best. Also when I’ve reached my final draft, I know exactly which file to email off for speculation to producers, agents or production companies.

Lastly, when I’m typing in my revisions, I use the permanent marker to put a simple diagonal line through each page I’ve edited as I go and save my work. I don’t think I need to say how important it is to save after every page, because again life gets in the way. I may be typing in edits at home and one of my kids gets hurt or the wife wants to get naked. Knowing I’ve saved the most recent page of edits allows me to simply close the laptop and snap into husband/father mode until the next time I can get back to my work.

The permanent marker slash is strategic. It allows me to know which printed pages have been completed in the new draft and saved without trying to remember of hand. It also allows me to go back to that draft and still be able to read my original draft and revision notes. I’ll keep that draft in a shelf for reference as well as future drafts until I’ve decided the final draft is met, at which point I discard the previous drafts.

That’s my editing process. It works for me. I suggest you find your own process but make it a formal process. Know this part of creative writing is as important as any other part of the process so come up with a formality on which you can rely and know your product is the best it can be.

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