Since I’m in the middle of an editing extravaganza (T-minus 13 days until the second book is due to the editor), I thought maybe now would be the time to publish this article that was half written regarding my editing process. The title is tongue in cheek, by the way, there is absolutely no magic to be found in editing, just hard work and practice that can sometimes seem like magic.
For clarity, this post will focus on self-editing, but that isn’t the only kind of editing I do. I will discuss how I choose beta readers, content editors and copy editors in other posts down the line. These folks are a crucial part of the process, and I wouldn’t want to undervalue them because I’m worried about word count.
Now… because I like lists, Ima make one!
As I’ve said, a large majority of my writing/editing happens in the bathtub, with coffee. I write everything by hand before I type it. I do this for a few reasons, 2/3 of which are silly. First, I write in the bathtub and that’s not an awesome place for a computer. Second, I think it’s romantic. Third, and this is the only one that really matters, it slows me down and helps me cut words, which is a big deal for me. Before I adopted this method, I was writing ridiculous 150,000 word monstrosities (not good). Note: Word count is not everything, and of course there are tons of books with high word counts that everyone loves, but it is a good indication you might have some unnecessary fluff going on in your work.
While writing, I let my bad habits run rampant. I used to try to perfect my work in draft form but that level of care led to burn out. Advice: Fill the page. Be creative and have fun, leave the perfectionist at home and get words down. You can go back and give yourself a hard time later.
Writing is the fun part. It’s why I keep doing this. I love creating. If I could make a living off sitting in the bathtub, drinking coffee and throwing words onto a page, I would totally do it. But I can’t. I don’t even think J.K. Rowling can. It’s simply not how it works. Part of being an author (a bigger part than writing, IMHO) is editing.
2. Draft One
Once I have smoothed out all the wrinkled legal pad pages and transcribed them onto a computer, I have a draft, a manuscript, if you will. At this point in my process, my manuscript doesn’t look anything like a finished book. It’s basically a bunch of characters sighing and rolling their eyes while I vomit adverbs all over the page. Here’s a 430 word sample (so less than 2 book pages at 250 words industry standard). I know I’m taking a risk in publishing this bare bones format, but hey, if I can publish my sales to the world I can publish this, too. Please note, however, the following excerpts are NOT representative of a finished product, they’re simply stepping stones. Bonus, this is from the new book! It doesn’t give anything big away, so no spoiler alerts necessary (I hope), but it does involve an interaction between two new characters (Lukas and Odeth) oh and check it, Celine is back y’all!
I do perform some minor self-editing when I’m going from the handwritten version to the typed version, another plus about handwriting first, a free editing opportunity (yay).
3. Editing Draft One (By Hand)
Okay, so now I have this manuscript. What next? Well, I turn it back into paper (sorry, trees). I print out what I have, double-sided and smaller margins, so I can at least try to be less of a jerk to the forest, and I take that back with me to the bathtub. After I’ve made some coffee.
On this first edit, I’m not looking for perfection. I’m looking for glaring errors (including glaring grammar errors), anything that doesn’t make sense and elimination of my personal writing vices (I see you, adverbs and gerunds). I read dialogue aloud to see if it sounds right. I rewrite awkward sentences. I tell my characters to STFU and stop sighing. They might be trying to prevent chaos, but at least they’re not editing.
Eventually, I end up with this:
4. Editing Draft One (Typed)
I edit about five chapters before I make changes in Word. Any more than that is too much for me. I also take breaks between editing sprees. During these breaks, I work on something new to recharge my emotional batteries and to remind myself I really do like writing.
I make changes in red-line. A lot of people don’t like red-line, but for me, red-line makes me feel accomplished. I like to go through a manuscript and see it all marked up. Every time I see red, I see an improvement. This attitude took time to craft, but it’s served me well.
Below is the same excerpt in red-line. I’ve added comments outlining the reasoning behind each edit. These comments are not reflective of a long thought process. At this point, most of my first draft editing is instinctual, but that’s only made possible through practice. It was a really fun exercise to ask myself why I do what I do and go back to basics. I think this little piece about editing will make me a better writer, so that’s cool! As a side note, there are 73 edits in this 430 word excerpt.
5. Rinse and Repeat
What you see above is only the first round of edits for the first draft of this one scene. Right now, I’m on my fourth draft. For me, the biggest edits happen after the manuscript comes back from the beta readers and then again when it comes back from the content editor (for the first time). For this one 430 word scene (which looks totally different now), there have been 148 edits before it’s even been to the editor. There will be more, so many more the amount of edits will probably at some point exceed the word count. And when it’s finally published, I’ll probably wish I’d had more time and made more edits.
Advice: Edit until you’re proud of your work, then edit again. Edit until you want to rip your hair out, then keep going. Edit until you want to burn the damn thing. Edit until you think you’re making it worse. Take breaks, but don’t let the breaks last too long. Keep pushing. Reward yourself. Remind yourself that this is hard, but it’s okay. Allow yourself to feel frustrated and angry, but don’t allow those feelings to overwhelm you into giving up. Journal. Eat Panera broccoli cheddar soup, but get back to work. Creating is painful. It’s okay, we’ve all been there, and you’ll get through it.
But also be conscious of a stopping point, because it’s never going to be perfect. When you start flipping words back and forth, or you are no longer connected to your characters, it’s time for a new set of eyes. I gauge my need for a new set of eyes based on the excitement I feel for my characters. When I was writing The Wheel Mages, I sent the manuscript out to beta readers too soon. I was still super pumped on my characters and wanted to share them with the world, but they weren’t ready to be shared.
After my manuscript came back from the beta readers, I realized my mistake, and I edited until I was sick of my characters. I hated everyone, especially Alena. But it made my book stronger, because by the time my content editor received it, I had taken it to its limits (at that point). A good editor will re-energize you. Take advantage of that and edit until you’re just about to lose interest in your work, then send it.
Take a deep breath. Let it out. It’s going to be okay. Now, go edit.