Whenever I tell other writers that I have written and published a novel, they often ask me about the editing process. For many, editing seems like a daunting and seemingly insurmountable task, but with the help of a beta reader or two, the process can become much easier. I would like to share my process. It is far from perfect, but it’s what I usually do and what has worked for me.
There are certain things that are needed before going into the editing process: a finished novel, an open mind, a critical eye, and the drive to get it done.
- A finished novel is fairly self-explanatory. I suggest it being finished only because I can sit and edit constantly and not move forward for months. If you think of things you know need to be fixed, make a list and keep it somewhere safe where you won’t lose it (been there, lost several).
- Many writers see their novels are their children. No one wants to hear their children being criticized, but when it is in their best interest, you may want to listen to your beta readers and what they suggest. You don’t need to always listen to what they say, sometimes it won’t work or it’s a personal preference, but be open about fixing things. Try not to get too attached to a certain phrase or metaphor. In the editing process, as much as you love that line, you may need to cut it or tweak it. I clung to an analogy comparing England to dingy mashed potatoes but realized the entire chapter needed to be reworked and obviously, the potatoes had to go.
- A critical eye goes hand-in-hand with an open-mind. You need to be able to look at your own work and see the problems in it. Where are you lacking? Where is there too much? If you wrote the story over a long period of time, did you style change from beginning to end? There is no way that after a first or second draft your book is ready for publishing. Look harder for mistakes and issues that need tinkering with. One cannot always rely on their beta readers to find every issue, so being self-critical will definitely help when perfecting it before it heads into your readers’ hands. As a reader, what would make you annoyed or want to change?
- Seeing a stack of two hundred and fifty pages laying on your table can be incredibly daunting. How will you get through all of it with all your other life commitments? My suggestion is to set a manageable goal for yourself each day or each week. You won’t always accomplish it and other days you will exceed it, but just try to press on and get through it. if you are having a day where you reread the same line over and over, step back and do something else for a while or try reading a different chapter. No one said you had to edit the book cover to cover, you can skip around.
My process for editing, can be a long one and a repetitive one to many, but it’s like a rock tumbler. Each revolution through the story polishes it more and more.
- My first editing process (if I hold off until the end of the book) is making the edits I have on my list, things I know need to be fixed, which can include changing characters’ ages or descriptions, changes in continuity or style, passages you have been eying since after you wrote them. I may go through this process more than once just to make sure I got everything. **As a tip, I like to print out my entire manuscript, then make changes with a red pen by writing in the margins or attaching pieces of paper where I have rewritten chunks of a chapter or scene. If you tend to miss your changes, go over the pen with a highlighter (I prefer pink) to make the changes stand out.
- Leave your draft alone for a while. Putting away, get some distance from it and make it so you don’t recite the memorized phrases instead of actually reading them. If you haven’t given your book to a few people to read, you should do so now. Their feedback will hopefully be helpful during your next session. Make sure they will give you honest feedback and most importantly, they will actually do it. Explain to them what you want them to look out for and be specific, write it down even.
- Read your story, make notes on areas that need correcting or altering and if any areas are boring. As you go through and tweak things (mine tends to be wording and adding more since I’m an underwriter. If you are an over-writer, you may need to prune your manuscript), highlight them and mark them in a distinctive pen on your manuscript. Take the feedback from your beta readers and see what they suggest. If it should be changed, do it now. If you are unsure, save it and wait until you are all done and reread the story again to decide if it needs to be done. Typically, I go through this editing phase about twice. When doing historical fiction or anything that needs research, make sure you fact-check what you are unsure of still.
- Leave it for a week or two. Now, reread it. This is going to (hopefully) be lighter editing. Read it aloud. Are there words that need changing? Is any of the dialogue stiff or awkward? Sometimes it may be beneficial to have someone read it to you in order to catch awkward parts that sound fine in your head, and during the reading process, you may also come across typos.
- The final stretch! I call this typo time. I was a writing tutor, so I am familiar with most rules of grammar and can correct most of my work (I still need to look up lay v. lie and a few other rules that always need refreshing). If you have certain rules you know trip you up, make an index card of the rule to keep with you while you go through it again, but if you would rather have someone else deal with grammar, I would suggest finding a proofreader online or a friend who is willing to take a look at it. I go over my work with a fine-tooth comb and often hand it off to my mom who is good at catching mistakes I miss. At this point, you are done fiddling with your text hopefully. Word changes may still occur, but remember the point is fine polishing, not overhauling. If you are still unhappy with it, I would go back to step 3 or 4 for another round or two of edits.
The point of this post is hopefully to empower you to be your own editor. The input of others is important, but first and foremost, you should be writing a book you want to read. Take the process into your hands and be self-critical without being self-defeating. It is your work, your book, and while an editor is a great tool, you should ultimately be responsible for perfecting your writing as it is a process through which you will grow to understand your flaws and what you need to do to become an even better writer.