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A Colorful Approach | Why I Use Colored Pens In My Editing

Just as each writer has their own methods and techniques for drafting a new story, we all have our own ways of tackling edits.

Some like to jump into revisions as soon as that initial draft is finished, whereas others set the project aside for a bit. You might seek and destroy crutch words before anything else, do a pass solely looking for any inconsistencies, or plan to give more attention to that side character who unexpectedly became your favorite.

Strategies vary from one writer to another, and can also change from one WIP to the next.

My personal approach has not changed all that much. The most significant would be choosing to focus strictly on editing rather than jumping between that and working on a new project.

One thing that has remained consistent is the technique I'm sharing in this post: editing with colored pens.

I have long been a fan of writing first drafts by hand when possible, and my editing is similar in nature. Once I've typed up the handwritten draft, I'll print out a copy of the document to mark it up.

This is a tactic used by many writers out there, but even when a method is common among writers, you may find each puts their own unique twist on it.

In my case, that would be using colored pens for my edits.

I started doing this early in college, around the time I began the first round of edits on a shelved-for-now attempt at a novel. I cannot pinpoint an exact reason I opted for colors. It may have had to do with pencil marks fading over time or smudging.

That isn't the only benefit, though!

Using colored pens as opposed to only black or blue makes differentiating notes easier. It doesn't take long for the margins to become crowded with scribbles. I typically use the standard symbols from my student newspaper copy editor days but have a few of my own that specific to my style, and they take up a fair bit of what little white space remains.

The pages become a jumbled mess in a matter of minutes, and it could be somewhat tricky to make sense of things later. I usually edit a batch of chapters at once before transferring those changes to the digital copy. It can take me a bit to remember what I meant when I jotted something down, but using multiple colors for my notes at least eliminates the need to figure out where one note ends and another begins or what area of the text it's referencing.

I personally prefer fine, felt-tip pens. My handwriting is small, so having an equally small tip accommodates this and my habit of squeezing things between lines of text. I just use whatever colors I have on hand, aside from yellows and neon greens as they don't show as clearly on the paper. Mine pens came in an assorted pack, as it can be more cost-efficient to purchase them that way instead of buying them individually.

You could also implement a color-coding system, like using blue for notes pertaining to a specific character or orange for anything related to dialogue, but that hasn't worked for me. I typically get too in the zone to stay that organized.

Some writers choose to edit in a specific color because of how it makes them feel. One professor at my college would pass out red pens in her newswriting class for editing because that is the industry standard but would use green for comments on student work in fiction classes because it felt less harsh.

Similarly, you could invest in sparkly gel pens if that's closer to your vibe. If you're going to be picking your writing apart to make it stronger, you may as well make it pretty in the process.

One of these days, I would love to have a set consisting of primarily blues, pinks, and purples, with maybe a shiny gold pen for when something is really working and a red for when something really needs help.

There are things in editing that have commonly understood guidelines to them, but your approach can be as individualized as your writing.

Editing can be tedious and discouraging. You're setting out to make your writing stronger but, for that to happen, you need to pull it apart and identify its flaws. Where it is at its weakest. Everything that is wrong with it.

Finding techniques that make the process smoother in turn make it easier to endure.

For me, that's taking a more colorful approach to editing. Even though it's a deviation from the standard red ink, using an array of colors results in clearer assessments of my work and simplifies the transition the page to the screen.

Our style evolves over time. We discover methods that suit us and those that do not work as well. Sometimes, we may tweak things a bit to better align with ourselves and our stories.

Writing has its fair share of unexpected challenges. When facing them, there is nothing wrong with developing your own methods, even they are not exactly the norm.

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