I went back like 5 years to make sure I haven’t already done this post and, shockingly, I haven’t! How bizarre! How neglectful of me! (heh)
By now, you’ve all seen me bitching and moaning when I have to edit. (I know this, because my tweets appear in the bottom corner of the webpage *points*) All writers have to edit. If they say they don’t, then they aren’t writers because even if you send your final manuscript to a professional editor, you still have to filter in all their suggestions and edits. (The ones you agree with at least.)
Some of you might not know this, but there’s times not to edit, too. This includes any point at which you are actively writing. There’s a reason we call the first draft the ‘vomit’ draft and that’s because frequently it’s a steaming pile of… well. You know. The point of the first draft is to complete it. Period. If you keep going back and “editing” what you’ve so far written, it will take you soooo much longer to finish, if you ever do.
Everyone has their own process of editing so I’ll share mine with you:
- Read the entire manuscript chapter by chapter in separate files. This is how I write them, too, so that helps. By looking at each chapter individually, you can focus on the micro, what’s right in front of you, and fix any spelling/grammar/flow issues within the chapter.
- Send the whole thing to a professional editor. Seriously. At this point, you’ve read the damn thing through at least twice (probably more like 3-6 times), and won’t be able to see a mistake that’s looking right back at you waving both arms.
- Climb the walls while the editor has your baby hostage.
- Hug your baby tight when the editor releases it… and then work through all the edits and comments one by one until they’re all either accepted and fixed, or rejected altogether.
- Note: You can disagree with an editor because it’s your story. My rule of thumb is that if the editor questions something and I think they’re wrong, I wait until a 3rd person reads it and see who that person agrees with and go from there. I need at least 2 people to say I’m wrong on something I vehemently think is right before I change it.
- Honestly, at this point in my relationship with my editor, there are rarely things we disagree on, but it does occasionally happen.
- Leave it alone for like a month. Seriously. Don’t even think about it if you can manage it. Give it to a friend (or three or five) to read if any of your friends have time, but just for general feedback. At this point, an “OMG I LOVE IT!” can do wonders for your bruised ego. And if they think it sucks, well, that’s important to know too. Plus having a non-writer/editor read your work means you get a reader’s perspective. They’ll know if something doesn’t work on a different level which is always handy.
- Print out the entire manuscript and read it through on paper, making red (pink/purple/blue) inked notes and edits, whatever stands out against the paper. There’s a reason I call it my “red pen of death” after all.
- I learned the hard way with my last published book to print it out with different margins/spacing. (I seriously think they wanted to slap me by the time I was done, with all the last minute, “Wait! I just found this problem!”) You see, leaving it in the same format has your eyes going over already well-worn paths. By changing up the margins and spacing, the words aren’t where they were so you’re paying more attention. Or, I do anyhow.
- Filter in all your “final” corrections.
- If you have the budget, have your editor (and/or a different one) take another read through it.
- Filter in those edits.
- Print it out again in yet another format for the same reason.
- Make hand notes/edits on that manuscript.
- Filter in those edits.
- Do some shots, because you’re done.
No really. If, after 2 professional and 3-5 personal edits (at a minimum) there is anything wrong with your magnum opus? You’re not going to find it. Really, the chances of so many edits missing something huge is pretty slim. I’m not saying it can’t happen, but it’s not terribly likely.
And that’s how I roll. It’s an extremely long and eye-bleeding process that frequently makes me drink and even more often makes me want to bang my head against the wall. It always takes longer for everything I write to get through the editing process than to write the damn thing in the first place.
And by the way, my shorts and tv/feature scripts go through the same process. It just doesn’t feel as painful because they’re a lot shorter than my novels. I would never send out something unedited unless there was absolutely no other choice because of a sudden and completely unexpected deadline. And even then I beg of fellow writers to read it and give feedback asap. The idea of sending something out without at least one other person reading something I’ve written gives me hives and I consider myself a pretty good writer.
If you’re a writing newbie, then you definitely need other eyes to look at what you’ve written, regardless of natural talent or whatever anyone in your family says. If you can’t afford an editor, then I recommend you go on goodreads and join a beta reading group. People like myself sign up there specifically to share our experience and knowledge of writing and that includes reading for others. Then there are the websites like wattpad.com which are writer communities where you can post anything willy-nillly and get wholesale feedback. Just be prepared that, like anything else, you mostly get what you pay for. If you’re going to send anything to an agent / contest / fellowship, you need to spend the money and get professional edits done. Borrow if you have to, just get it done.
And there you have it. That’s the long, torturous route of editing that I go through. It’s worth it though. Invest in yourself and your writing. Make sure you edit.