Editing Tips

 Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it… Michael Crichton

The workshop leader looked over the group—a motley crew of aspiring and published authors seeking to learn. She arched her eyebrow and said, “The purpose of your first draft is to get the crap out. Then you can go back and write the book.” Okay, I thought, that’s an interesting way to look at it. And it actually freed me to write better.

I’ve also learned that each draft has crap in it. The goal is to have less and less in each revision. Even today, I’ll pick up my published novel, Journey to Riverbend, and see things I would change. And the published version is the eighth draft.

ScissorsOver the years, people have asked me, “What’s the best way to edit?”

I don’t think there is one best way to edit. Each writer will develop his own way of editing, mostly though trial and error.

My editing process has evolved as I’ve written more, studied the craft, and learned to test approaches and keep the ones that work.

When I write, I begin the day by reading what I wrote the day before. I look for typos, adverbs, passive tense, glaring POV issues, and grammar. This also helps me get back into the flow of the story.

On Saturday, I print out the pages for that week and do a deep edit of the week’s writing, polishing and refining, cutting scenes, re-working dialogue, correcting inconsistencies from the plot or character.

I use critique partners and group as I’m working on the story, incorporating their input as I Writinggo along.

Once the first draft is finished, I put it away. For a minimum of three weeks. If any thoughts come to me about the book, I put them in a folder until later. I send the story out to beta readers. At this point, I find I need at least two people to read the entire book and give me feedback to specific questions.

After three weeks, I pull out the manuscript and have my computer read it to me. And then I rewrite the story, incorporating input from the beta readers.

The second draft goes through almost the same process as the first, generally more quickly. And then it gets rewritten.

Editing is kind of like washing your hair—lather, rinse, repeat. Over and over.

There are two books I think are immensely helpful in this process: Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. And, Write Great Fiction: Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell.

What techniques have worked best for you in your editing? What resources would you recommend?

8 Replies to “Editing Tips”

  1. I completely agree with the tip to put the m/s away for a little while before trying to edit. We know the characters and the storyline so well that it is still reverberating in our brains, even if not on the page, making it hard to see as the ‘fresh’ reader does. Great post.

    1. Thank you, Renee.
      I find putting that time distance between myself and the manuscript so helpful. When I pick it up again, I can be much more objective about what works, and it’s much easier to “kill my darlings.”

  2. Thank you for sharing your editing process. Setting aside a manuscript is vital. I did that, and when I unearthed my project I noticed I used the word “quickly” again, and again, and again… I realized that if I truly “show” and don’t “tell” then the word could be easily eliminated. I found the bothersome word (more times than I’ll ever admit) when I simply used the “find” feature in Microsoft Word.

    1. Thank you, Heather.

      Letting the manuscript simmer for a few weeks helps me see the favorite words I use over and over more clearly. For me the challenge is coming up with different words for how characters see things. I tend to get lazy in the first draft.

      I appreciate your comment.

  3. Henry,
    Great suggestions. I personally try to turn off the “inner editor” during my first draft, whether working on a book or article. For articles I like to put it away overnight, but no less than a minimum of two hours if my deadline is tight. When working on a book, I’ll put the first draft away for at least a week before going back, maybe have someone read it all the way through and do some editing. I actually have someone who asks me if the next chapter is ready yet, so she works on reading/editing while I work on the first draft. My first edit includes her feedback and what I glean from writing groups.
    My second edit includes Word find functionality to identify overused words I tend to throw into manuscripts. The third and subsequent edits contain the hard work of rewriting passages, digging deeper for better scenes or descriptions (depending on whether I’m working on fiction or non-fiction), cutting and adding, correcting the telling places or dropping in stories for non-fiction work. During these edits I may discover words that seem repetitive, sometimes true or perhaps used infrequently but appear in close proximity. I find those words, highlight all occurrences, and check the count to verify if what appears true is reality.
    I look at the first draft as a skeleton of sorts, getting down the bare bones of what I want to include, then go back and add meat and skin to the bones. The final edits breathe life into the finished product.
    When I got my proof copy of Out of the Dungeon, I still found errors even after six or seven edits. My editing friend read the proof copy after I did and found a few more including one passage which raised a question in her mind. I of course fixed it promptly, rewriting several paragraphs. If I read my book now… Well, that explains why many authors don’t read their books after publication.

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