Saturday, October 01, 2005

Content Is Everything

Saturday Writer: Content Editing

As I write this I think, “they won’t find a number of links called Content Editing at the end of this one.”

Most writers think of content editing as part of the revising process, which is why you won’t find a number of links at the end of this post. I break it out to emphasize the challenge to the expression that should take place before the actual revising starts. Notice the graphic for this step has reversed color. That’s because we’ve moved focus from expression to structure.

I coach new writers to invite a colleague or friend to serve as their content editor, to take on the role of the surrogate audience. A pair of fresh eyes at this point can do a lot speed up the process of checking for sense, order, and logic.

A content editor is the first to challenge the writing, to shake the structure. This editor checks to ensure that all important information is included and that any unnecessary stuff is left out. He or she reads to see that the writing is clear, that it says what the writer wants it to, that the order is logical and easy to follow, and that the piece holds together without gaps or holes.

I’m currently writing a fictional narrative in which some events take place in the narrator’s mind. Helping the reader keep track of what’s real and what’s not requires changing tenses, using seques, and staying alert. Sometimes I get going so fast with the story that I miss a key segue, and the reader gets lost. I have three content editor-friends reading behind me, just to make sure I’ve not left something out. I can’t do it myself, because the story is simply too obvious to me.

A good checklist for a content editor draws from the characteristics of the genre. I’ll detail the characteristics for several genres next week, but for this article here’s a typical checklist for a personal narrative.

Personal Narrative Content Editor’s Checklist

  • Does the introduction make the reader want to continue?
  • Are the events clear and in chronological order?
  • Does the body stay to the core of the story, using only rich and relevant details for support?
  • Does the writer use exact words that portray the experience in a way the reader can understand it?
  • Does the conclusion tie the story together, leaving the reader glad to have read it?

Use this checklist yourself when reviewing a personal narrative, or ask a friend to use it to see whether your writing lives up to it. Then use the notes from the checklist experience to guide you as you do your revisions.

Having set goals going in, does a lot to take out sting of revising.

—me strauss Letting me be

Things to look for when reading a draft


Anonymous said...

I am so glad I found your blog. I need to look this over for my finishing process. I do not look at what I present on my blog as finished. It is just hanging out for a while on vacation till it is time to get back to work. I find myself moving on before I go back and finish something. I am in Th process of complying writing for either submission for magazine or a collection of writings in a small book. I do not know yet what category I would fit in, because I am not writing for a targeted audience. Thank you for the compliments on my writing, the Aviation site is mainly a collection of stories that I have not spent much time on finishing, I will however with you encouragement go back and reformat them. The used to be included in my other blog anchored in writing, but I separated them out for theme. Thanks again.

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Hey, Lance,
I'm so happy to have you.

Writing is hard enough. Doing it alone can been pretty painful. stop by whenever you can.

Anonymous said...

I’ve really come to enjoy these Saturday writing seminars you provide Liz. We in the blogosphere have no idea how fortunate we are to have an experienced editor freely sharing her years of experience with us. I for one am so very grateful and just wanted to let you know that. I am becoming a better writer for visiting here.

The piece I wrote today was an exercise in description. I described a homeless man without once using the word. At your convenience I would appreciate your honest and expert feedback. Thank.

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Hey Mark,
I appreciate your saying that. I know many think that they don't need posts such as this and really they don't. But more of us do and the fact is that writing them is a nice reminder for me too.

So thank you, Mark, your feedback is more than appreciated. I'll be right over to read that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. :o) It will help me with my WIP.

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Hey Easy,
Thank you for saying that. As I said to Mark, it's useful to have such things around. It's wonderful to know that others think so too.

Anonymous said...

As I was reading this, I was reminded of the days when I was at Wichita State when my friends and I would get together to go over our work. We'd make a big pot of coffee, and then pass our work around for discussion and editing. After an afternoon of taking notes from comments made and corrections suggested, we'd go home and revise our work.
Re-vision: to look over once more, to shape the piece to its final finished form. After we revised, we get together again to check each other's work for anything we might've missed. A few of the mistakes we'd find sometimes would make for a good laugh, but when we finished we were able to present our best possible work.
Blogging I find presents a rather unique challenge in that you're resigned to be your own copy-editor. When I read someone else's work, I can easily spot a botched sentence, a superfluous comma, ommitted word or misspelling. But when it comes to my work, my mind glosses over my mistakes. It automatically corrects as I go with out even being aware of it. Trying to shut that part of my brain off so that I can catch my mistakes is so hard. I think that's one of the reasons I sit on a piece for a few days before I post it. Even still, a few days after I've posted an essay, I'll still spot something.
I like how you present the "writing process" in a way that can be easily grasped by the beginning writer. The tone, while instructive, is also friendly and encouraging. Great work.

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Your post is so encouraging, Scot. Thank you.

But when it comes to my work, my mind glosses over my mistakes. It automatically corrects as I go with out even being aware of it.

I'm the same way . . . I think we all are. I know that one thing that helps is that I adjust the view on my browser to make the type extra large--to a size my eye is not used to reading--so that I'm forced to read one word at a time. That I have found helps a lot.

That and my friend who gets up at 4:00 a.m. and sends me an email when she sees a word left out or one misspelled. :)

I'm happy to shoot you a quick email when I see something. I would hope that anyone would do the same for me.


Anonymous said...

Excellent advice as usual, Liz.

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Thank you, Clive.
I do my best. The 65th Crayon helped me a bit.

Anonymous said...

Talking about writing, it's one of the hardest things in the world and what I find particularly excruciating is the editing process.

I started my novel (series of novels actually) in October, 1994. When I was finally done, it was nearly 2005 and from there to editing to publication was another process in itself. I guess the key word in editing any work is relevance.

I had grown attached to certain parts and when it was cut out, I felt actual pain, since it was like cutting off part of me in that process. However, as one editor explained to me, Skarr, you're probably the only one who would care about it, let it go.

Writing is also a lonely effort, as you rightly point out. However, the thrill of scrawling 'Finis' or 'The End' is indescribable and a few days after doing that, I was blank, almost in an euphoric kind of state. Again, this was a lonely feeling in a way as no one except the writer would really understand.

Great blog, btw.

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

HI Skarry,
Thanks for coming, You surely have shared some of the hardest parts of being a writer. And you also point out the joy that is involved as well.

I tell my mother-in-law that I write spy novels. It's just so hard to explain to people what it si we do.