On Editing

All the writers in the world are about to collectively balk at this statement, but I’m going to say it anyway:

I’ve come to really enjoy the editing process.

Let me clarify that:

Once I know what edits I’m going to make, I really enjoy the editing process.

The worst part about editing (or about starting a book, or starting anything new, really), is not having a clue what you’re doing or if/when you’re going to start feeling like you know what you’re doing. For some people, this part is thrilling. For me, it’s torture, but I was the kid throwing up on the first day of class every year up to seventh grade (maybe college) because I was so overwhelmed by the change in routine. I have a hard time with the beginning of things.

The great thing about editing (once you know the edits you need to make), is you already have material right at your fingertips. No more scratching your head to figure out how the book should end. You already know that. No more wondering who your characters are at their core – you (should) already know that too, although perhaps one of your revisions is you need to communicate it a little more effectively in your next draft. It’s all there in front of you, just waiting to be marked up with a red pen!

And the best part is, with each stroke of the delete key, you are actively improving upon your manuscript. That’s a very satisfying feeling.

I’ve developed a system for editing that helps me feel a little less overwhelmed by the process:

1) Once I’ve typed the words “The End,” (which I don’t actually do, but you know what I mean), I walk away from it. For at least two weeks. I can start on a new project or a short story just to keep my writing muscles from lapsing, but I can’t do anything with that finished draft for two weeks. I need to cleanse my palette in order to come back to it with fresh eyes.

2) I make a list of things I think might be problematic. After two weeks, you’ll think of some. Trust. I’ve learned while writing a draft to make a spreadsheet with each chapter having its own line. I keep track of word count and pages as well as major happenings in the story. This is a HUGE HELP in editing. It helps you recognize plot holes, extraneous chapters, and remembering all the little details that will need to be incorporated somewhere else if you decide to remove/change a chapter. When it’s time to start editing, I go right to this spreadsheet and add the column “Edits” and then insert where I think the problems might be and how to fix it. Now you basically have a roadmap to editing, and all you have to do is go through and do it!

3) Each new draft I do actually goes through TWO read throughs. The first is electronic. I literally open the document and start reading it, line by line, cleaning up crappy sentences and moving around backstory so I can bleed it in rather than flooding my reader with it. I also have my above referenced spreadsheet open so I can keep in mind more major edits I need to make.

4) After my computer revisions, I print it out and bind it. I wait at least one week (again, cleanse the palette and come back with fresh eyes). Then I read it with my trusty red pen. No matter how many times you electronically edit your book, you will catch so much with that red pen it’s almost embarrassing. This also helps you put yourself in your reader’s shoes–although not totally, because you know things your reader doesn’t know and it can be hard to “forget” them–because you’re actually holding the book in your hands.

5) Make the edits I red-penned in the hard copy.

So that’s how I edit. It’s intense, but having a system (even if it’s drastically different from mine) really helps! The above process doesn’t mention feedback from others, which is intentional. I always do a second draft BEFORE I send out to beta readers. Reason being, not even my worst enemy deserves to have to slog through my crappy first draft. The third draft is when I basically repeat this process but using the feedback I’ve collected from others. See here to read more about receiving critique.

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