Editing, or How I Decide to Drive Myself Crazy

Ask any author, and they’ll tell you how much they loathe editing. Brandon Sanderson has to bribe himself, though he calls it a reward system. For every x amount of pages, he buys a pack of magic cards. Otherwise he would never edit.

I’m curious to know how you guys feel about editing. Because I love it! Writing can be hard, because I’m not particularly good at outlining. So, I have a general idea as I write, but the details are vague, and the story tends to go its own way.

Editing is the time when I’m actually in control. I can step away from the creation, which tends to give me mega-tunnel vision, and look at the whole piece. And then I can tear it apart and make it better.

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I wanted to talk a little about my actual editing process. At least what I know of it. I’ve never edited an entire novel before, so the process may change as I go. Learning and what not.

Usually I begin by reading the chapter through, and taking as little notes as possible. If I do take notes they’re broad, like “A little vague here” or “clean up POV”. Large tasks that affect the tone of the chapter.

Once that initial read through is done I put three things at the top of the front page:

was:
ly:
as:

Then I read it again, circling any “was”, “as”, or “-ly” adverbs. Once they’re all circled, I count them, and put the corresponding numbers in their place at the top. I do this because “was”, “as”, and “-ly” adverbs are indications of weak and passive writing. Having them circled lets me hone in on where I can immediately start strengthening paragraphs.

Not too bad for the rough draft!

Not too bad for the rough draft!

After fixing these sentences I’ll consider word choice. I’ll look for repetitive words and sentence structures. This is the part that’s like a puzzle. Finding what’s wrong with a chapter and removing it, then replacing it with something better.

In the past I’ve been editing short fiction. The prime directive in short fiction is to be as concise as possible, and to cut anything not absolutely crucial to the plot. Every sentence should characterize, world-build, and move the plot along. And yes, writing a novel should be that way too.

But, going into editing ‘Vessels’ I knew there was a lot of content that needed added. So, for the first time in my writing career, I have notes of scenes that need added into chapters during the editing process. It’s weird. And, I’m not sure how I’m going to tackle that just yet.

It’s these early chapters that are the most difficult. The plot didn’t really exist yet, so there were no hints of impending action, and characters that come to play late in the story need introductions in earlier chapters. A lot of adding new scenes in these chapters. Which I’m excited about!

But, it makes editing them a lot harder.

Anyway, once the line editing is done, you know, word choice and all that, I’m going to start working on the additions. Also, everything I edit gets written straight on the page, and then gets inputted in the computer later.

See?

See?

Once a round of editing is done I’ll make a note of it at the top of the front page. I’ll put the date of completion, which draft number it is, and the phrase, “Ready for Retype”. That way, if I don’t get to retyping right away, I can come back and know which edit it is, when it was completed, and that it’s ready to move on.

For short fiction I could retype, print it, and then continue editing. I could keep tweaking and perfecting for ages, until I really didn’t think it could get any better. But, with the novel, I’m going to treat it as a whole. Chapter 1 has been edited and retyped, meaning that it is officially on Draft 2. When all the chapters are at that stage I will reprint and start editing all over again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Until I think it’s ‘done’.

This is going to take awhile…

I think editing is daunting to a lot of writers. It’s not as fun as creation. The sense of wonder is gone. You already know what happens and now it’s the mechanics of the thing. Magic-less.

I get that. But, you can’t say it isn’t challenging. And I love a good challenge.

Anyway, enough ramblings here. It’s time to get to work!

 

BZ

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