Friday, 18 March 2011

All About Editing - Nik Perring

Do you love editing, or hate it, or somewhere in the middle?
Good question, Dolly. It’s such a massive part of the writing process that I don’t think I could still be a writer and hate it. It just wouldn't work. For me, editing is all about making the story better, and that has to be a good thing. What I do hate (and I don’t mind admitting it!) is when, no matter how much editing I do, I can’t make a story work – that’s frustrating. (But again, writing things that aren't any good are a part of the process too…)

Do you edit as you go? Or do you start only after the first draft?
After the first draft, usually. All my first drafts are written in notebooks so editing those as I went would be messy and difficult (crossing out rubbish words/sentences/paragraphs/pages aside) . The editing starts when that handwritten draft is typed up – typing it up gives me a half-edit as I’ll change things as I type.

Do you have a definite method for editing? If so, would you like to share something from it?
While my writing method is quite rigid and works for me, I’m always wary of telling people what they should do; writing is such a personal thing and I think that people should find what works best for them.

But for me…

1.       Write the story longhand.
2.       Type it up (editing as I go).
3.       Print it out and edit on the page.
4.       Repeat until I’m happy it can’t be improved on.
5.       Read aloud, and edit that.
6.       Record what I’ve read and listen to it back, again, editing as I go.

Any tips you've learned from your experience?
As I say, I think people have got to find what works the best for them.
Editing though, is a huge part of the writing process – you’ll, unless you’re very, very good, spend more time tweaking and rewriting than you will actually getting that first draft down. And there’s so much to watch out for. The story has to be good and well told, the dialogue and characters believable, and the spelling and grammar and punctuation correct – but there’s also the rhythm of the sentences and words that needs to be right – never under estimate the power a comma can have to change something.

Anything else you would like to add - pet peeves, things that make you want to pull your hair out (editing related), joys and wonders of the process?
I think the joy of editing comes when you turn something good into something great. That’s where the magic is and where the real satisfaction lies.

The trick with editing, I find, is to be thorough. And in order to be thorough I think it’s important to take your time. The aim should be to make the story as good as it can be, and not to work to a deadline. There’s no point in rushing, and no need to either.

I guess my pet peeve would be (and this is wearing my teacher’s and editor’s hat) seeing a story I know that can be great but the author has been too keen to say that they’ve finished it. While it’s true you can edit something too much, I think a good chunk of people don’t do quite enough. I suppose then, the real trick with editing is keeping at it even when you don’t want to. That, and knowing when you’ve done enough!


Nik Perring is a writer, teacher of writing, and editor from the UK. His short stories have been published widely in places including SmokeLong Quarterly, 3 :AM and Word Riot. They’ve also been read at events and on radio, printed on fliers and used as part of a high school distance learning course in the US.

Nik’s collection of short stories, NOT SO PERFECT is published by Roast Books and is out now. Nik blogs here ( and his website’s here ( He offers short story help here


  1. Great post!
    Thanks Dolly for exploring the topic on your blog. Trying my hand at a novel for the first time, editing is the part of the process I'm enjoying the most, so far.
    Interesting points Nik. When you say that it takes time, I feel so much better, because I think of it as shaping my drafts into the best and most effective form I can manage, and I'm terribly slow with it. Partly because my drafts are messy and very far from the final shape they're supposed to take, but also because I just like to edit to my heart's contempt. I can't help it. The problem in fact, is that I can hardly call something 'done'!

  2. Nik,

    Thanks very much for this post. Most informative :-) And I may certainly try hand-writing the whole first draft instead of my usual mix and match approach.


    Yes, I believe it's hardest to accept that the process takes so much time. But then there also comes the time when we have to know it's "done" and stop, otherwise it could become an endless process.

  3. Hi Michela

    I'm glad you found this helpful. I think what's important to remember is that this really isn't a race. If you're creating something great then that's the important part, not how long it takes.

    And my first drafts are messy too - nothing wrong with that!

    Dolly - it was a pleasure! Thanks for having me here.And let me know how the handwriting goes...


  4. Really like the idea of recording a reading of a story to listen back to as part of the editing process. Will have to try that one. I read my work aloud, but being able to just listen to a reading clearly has advantages. Lots of great advice in here.

  5. Hey Dan - well it certainly helps me. I whack it on my iPod and go for a walk while listening to it - listening to it in a place that isn't my office helps too, I think!

  6. I like the idea of recording and listening, but absolutely hate to listen to my voice back (even on phone messages), so not sure I can put up with listening to the whole book in my voice :P

  7. I forgot to say, reading aloud helps me too, but I never thought about recording myself and listen back. Something new to try, thanks for all the tips Nik! Dolly come on, what's wrong with your voice? You try it too! :)

  8. Great post! Fantastic info ;o) I love that you point out that editing/revising is most of what the book is. I totally agree. First draft is the easier part! I find my best writing is in the revision/rewrite, at least so far ;o)

    Thanks for sharing your insight, Nik and thanks to Dolly too ;o)

  9. Loved this post! I've read my work out loud on occassion and it really helps when I'm trying to find the right wording - especially with poetry. I've never recorded myself though. I'm with Dolly on this - I hate listening to the sound of my own voice. :-)

  10. Dolly - else has to hear it! Seriously though, it (as I think I said) isn't going to work for everyone. Stick to what works for you. I don't think you should ever do anything you're not comfortable with! :)

  11. No problem at all, Michela! Hope it works for you!

  12. You're welcome, Erica. I'm glad I've been of use here! There's so much more to writing than - writing, even though that's the fun part!

  13. Hey C R Ward - you're welcome. Like I said to Dolly, you've got to do what you're comfortable doing. Reading aloud and listening back both help me, but that doesn't mean it'll suit everyone. I know lots of very good writers who find that reading aloud their work actually makes them hate it! Horses for courses and all that!

  14. I reckon too many writers type straight into the machine (Iain Banks for one). This way, without an outline, the plot won't be as tight, as you tend to punch keys with far more abandon than you would scribble lines with ink, hence it's a more prolific method. Typing up from longhand is almost like a second draft/rewrite in itself. Longhand to begin with feels more personal, somehow.

  15. Hi Piebald77

    Yip, I agree completely that longhand writing's a more personal (and, I think, beautiful and connecting) experience and it does encourage more thought, I think. I suppose someone like can get away with it though. And, again, I guess it comes down to whatever works best for the individual.

    It's an interesting point you make about plotting though, as that's something I never do - for me if it's plotted then the writing becomes too prescriptive. It's only me speaking personally but I like to see what happens, and find out what I'm writing about, once I start writing. But again - it comes down to what works best for the individual.

    Interesting stuff!

  16. I should probably add that most of my work is usually short, so plotting might not be as important as it would be to, say, a novelist

  17. Great post! The advice and tips are very much appreciated.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  18. Thanks Sarah - glad you found them useful!