Editing(Warning: Language) (Warning: this is an ongoing draft of something it'll probably take the rest of my life or a book contract to complete.)
So you just finished descing your new character, typing your resume, or hammering out your latest essay for that #$@# required English class. You're convinced it's crap, but there's something about it that keeps you from deleting it....hm...maybe it's art, maybe it's craft, maybe it's...a deadline. What now?
1. SAVE A COPY, DUMBASS. RIGHT NOW. I'M NOT JOKING.
2. Take a break. Your love/hate obsession with this thing needs a rest, drama boy.
3. Grab your tools. OK, now grab your other tools. Dictionary, thesaurus, pencil, paper, English major...
4. Read it all the way through. Make no marks. Make no judgements. You need to see what's really there, and not what you fantisize is really there.
5. Considering your audience, are you making a damn bit of sense? Go through and just try to make sense. Fuck grammar, fuck spelling. Pretend you're an idiot and read what you've written. Pretend you're an asshole and read what you've written. Make changes, save a new version of your stuff, and print out a new hardcopy.
6. Are you saying what you actually want to say? Explain out loud what you're trying to say and then write it down. Break everything into sections according to what you're trying to say, like, "First I'm going to say this, but then I'm going to say this." Move anything that doesn't match its section into the right section, make a new section for it (if you can make the new section fit in with the big picture you just wrote down), or delete it. Check to make sure you're still making sense. Save a new version and print out a new copy.
7. Read your stuff without making marks or judgements again. After a minute, ask yourself if you noticed anything new and improved. The best part about editing is finding neat stuff that you didn't realize was there. If you can, without sacrificing meaning or inviting confusion, stick more of the same in your stuff. (This is mostly for creative work. You probably won't find any miracles writing your resume.) Save a new version and print.
8. Check your style. Is it appropriate for the people you're giving this to? Are you too informal with something intended for professional use? (This doesn't mean you can use "utilize" twelve times to a page, and I'll slit your throat if you write, "I just want to make sure we're all on the same page here.") Are you too formal with something intended for people who hate formal English? Save and print, buddy.
9. Read your piece out loud. You can get help for this. If it sounds terrible, then it doesn't look good, either -- if it sounds bad, then you probably have a grammar problem. The only exception to this is commas. Commas do not mean the same thing as pauses in your sentences. Commas connect ideas. Use them to hook sentences together and make lists. There are a few other purposes, but I'm not going to give you a freakin' book here. Look it up yourself. And the it's thing? IT IS = IT'S. Anything else is just an its. Check your manual of style or your English major. Save and print.
10. Finally, the proofreading. Spelling and stupid spellcheck errors (lingo for longing, etc.), capitalization, spacing, punctuation, and...FORMATTING. Formatting is very important, even for the most informal work. Especially if you put it on-line. Formatting includes HTML. I suggest you take another break before you mess with this stuff. If you need help, this might be the area where you should most desperately try to get it, because it's the most objective area. Many things can be passed off as author's perogative, but sloppiness ain't one of them.
Fine. What's on the page still doesn't match the glory of the idea when you first had it in your head (never does), but you're impressed. Better yet, other people are impressed. Best of all, other people are impressed, but they can't tell you why. When someone says, "This is great!" and you say, "What did you like about it?" and he says, "Well, the whole thing," it's the best feeling in the world. Unless you get a critic, an editor, or another person that writes looking at it, what you do should be a lot of hard work that comes off like 20 year-old Johnny Walker.