Editing should be kept separate from writing. Bottom-line (granted more experienced writers can juggle both, but we are talking about several novels under your belt by this point). It’s easier said than done, I know I have a hard time sticking to this principle, but I can confidently say mixing the two can slow down getting all of your story out, not just by months, but YEARS. You’ve got all the story out in a first draft? Excellent, let me share with you my process and some tips in hopes of making this less daunting for you. Some of this is technical techniques while others are great methods for breaking you out in order to up your editing game. Also, be sure to visit my post on “Developing Your Writing Style” for more ideas of editing and how to tweak your work to be stronger. Editing is more successful after you know what your writing style looks like or should be for the story you’ve written. Otherwise, you’ll be flying in this blind and may find yourself frustrated easily.
Edits Versus Revisions
Whether you realize this or not, there is a distinct difference between editing and revising your work. When we are editing, we are looking for grammar, sentence structure, consistence, showing versus telling, and similar problems. These are things that are fixable on a small scale and aim to polish what is written on the page. Revisions is like taking the work back to the drawing board. This implies mass overhauls in sections, chapters, even the whole work. We are talking about complete rewrites, ripping out parts, adding in large chunks, like remodelling the motor in a car in attempts to booster the gas mileage or turn it into the hot rod we were attempting to make it into. Revisions can become a morale breaker at times, but consider it a necessary evil. Once you overcome the stigma, a revision can revive your confidence in the story once you get to the end of the process. It’s meant to improve, strengthen, and correct mistakes on a larger scale. They can happen within the first few rounds of edits or come at the back end after BETA readers all complained about a missing or broken piece. Don’t hesitate to revise and always keep copies of before and after in case you decided to add “that part” back into the story!
- Sentence Structure
- Show Vs Tell
- Spelling Errors
Example of Editing: Original
As I started the mundane work of washing, rinsing and drying dishes a thought came to me; it was a nice enough day to spend some time in the sun. With it being the middle of summer, a trip to the beach sounded nice. (Excerpt from Kim A.)
Example of Editing: Fix A
As I started the mundane work of washing, rinsing and drying dishes a thought came to me; it was a sunny summer day and the beach was sounding nice.
Example of Editing: Fix B
As I started the mundane work of washing, rinsing and drying dishes a thought came to me; I should have gotten theses chores done before I went out last night. Images of the beach were crossing my mind, the relaxing sound of the waves crashing on the shore.
- Ripping it apart
- Rewriting sections (Large & Small)
- Having to Show glossed over parts
- Deleting unwanted material
- Careful with Morale when Revising!
- Strengthen, improve, correct
- SAVE BEFORE AND AFTER!
This is something I learned and carried over from the days of 3D Modeling. Yea, I know, I am a Jill-of-all-trades, but it all has benefited my ability to become an author in one manner or another. What do I mean by File Management? I assume you are writing your story in some word processor program (Word, NotePad, etc). If you haven’t made a Folder on your computer titled after the story, then you should do so now. Once you have one, the first thing you should do is save copies of the story labeled as such:
As a note, ” .xxx ” is to indicate the file type. If you are working in Word it is usually DOC or DOCX formats and in other programs it is common to see RTF or TXT. There is no right or wrong format until you start to Query or Self-publish the file. Even then, it isn’t hard to flip between all these formats or file types and I will discuss this in another segment.
The goal here is maintaining the Final Draft format because sometimes it helps to compare, go back and recover something deleted during edits, or in case you loose the file altogether. Note that it states the story, then declares it as the final draft and the date it was completed. These elements can make life easier since you know what version it is and how old it is without ever opening the file.
The Master Edit file will be the one you will be constantly and actively working in to improve and fix the story. It has no date, since it is constantly shifting, but it is a very good habit to save your edits when you really like your progress so far. You can use a separate naming system, but the key is to be consistent. To give you an idea of some of the different versions I keep on hand, here’s a screenshot of Romasanta: Father of Werewolves working files:
Note that I have two file types I was saving in: PDF and DOCX. The reason for this was the PDF was handed out to proofreaders and those helping me edit. Let me express what all these mean:
- “Manuscript” – This indicates the file was finished being edited and I was actively prepping it for paperback and kindle formats for self-publishing. In case something went totally nutty during formatting, I was able to fall back on the start or a set date here and this helps a ton since it is easy to accidentally delete or skew something in this process.
- “CSP_Proof” – Ironically, this is the file downloaded from CreateSpace (CSP) for checking my proof for formatting issues and errors before pushing it to be ready for printing. Not many people are confident with just the digital proof, but I use this method. You can also order a hardcopy proof before launching your work which is a super great way to check the final copy.
- “RomasantaFatherOfWerewolves_Valer….” – Files that carry the full title, author name and version (“Kindle” or “Paperback”) let me know this was the current published version that is live. It is also the file I would use to entice Book Reviewers or hand out as a freebie. Despite this, you can download the MOBI (Kindle format) of the ebook via Amazon’s KDP publishing venue that is a more secure for a handout. This will be covered in more detail later.
As you can see, I save and date often throughout all the stages of writing my work. As for my First Draft, I save it in multiple spots (On desktop, GoogleDrive, DropBox, and even an external hard drive) to make sure I have a backup somewhere in case the file corrupts or gets deleted. It is also super convenient to have it saved on DropBox and/or Google Drive since I don’t have to be on my computer to upload it, work on it, and save it on there to continue it later on without missing a beat. I do this with the Master Edit too!
Again, there is no wrong or right way to manage your files. I am simply sharing what I am doing to keep everything on track while securing that I never have to redo things too horribly far back. See this as a security blanket as you travel from one destination to the next in working towards the finished manuscript and published product.
Keep Track While Editing
There are several parts to this overall theme. Keeping track of bad habits, reoccurring issues, comments and more can help you edit more effectively. You have to be aware that you will be reviewing your story from the beginning MULTIPLE times.
In the first run throughs of editing, you can track your thoughts and concerns via Comments using Word and some of the other software. If your program lacks this ability, know that Google Docs can do this OR you can track this via a file where you’ve listed the Chapter, page number, paragraph number and/or details with your comments and thoughts. Some of the things I comment on in my first few run-throughs is “Check Date/Timeline for Consistency”, “This seems to be lacking/missing/needs more”, and even on occasion “Might want to delete this altogether – undecided”. In short, you can save harder decisions or place reminders that will spark you to catch possible mistakes. Even marking areas as “Check for Clarification” can remind you to be aware readers might get lost there. This should reflect over into when you start recruiting help and have others proofread these areas.
If you haven’t started a list of potential bad habits, you better accept the fact you will be seeing them now much easier. Start making this list and adding to it as you notice several things about your writing and the story. It does not necessarily have to even be bad habits, it can be things to remind yourself what you wanted in the story or something to keep consistent within your writing style you suspect you failed to do or decided to do during writing the first draft. A list can help you keep things in order and you can find several of the following:
- Cliches: “avoid like the plague”, “back against the wall”, “cry like a baby” and more.
- Redundant word usage: Clear, now, a vocab word you favored that is there a lot
- Redundant phrases or words: “in an instant”, “in a moment”, “it was clear now”
- Spelling of names, places, or other similar issues: Lilith versus Lillith
- Inconsistency in vocab choices: color/honor/armor versus colour/honour/armour
- Inconsistency in Numeral format: 10 versus ten; Twenty-two thousand versus 22,000
- Character quirks you want to keep consistent; i.e. How Yoda talks, Rolling left shoulder during intense moments, etc.
- Common mistyped words: me/my, anything/antyhing, for/fir/fur, it/is and so on.
- No-no words: “that”, “so” and other crutch words
As proofreaders and others help you edit, be sure to add their findings on this list as well so you have it here to remind you every time you pass through your work.
It’s literally impossible to check your own work. Mainly because you wrote it, and secondly, because your brain knows what SHOULD be there and so it puts it there even though it actually isn’t there. I like to refer to these as “phantom” words or sentences. It’s hard to see them after staring at the same work for hours, weeks, days… years! Just like that meme with the missing vowels that you can still read, your brain is impeding your efforts to see mistakes and what is actually written on the page. So it comes down to figuring out ways to “trick” yourself into seeing it as something new.
Read It Backwards
This may seem like an odd concept, but many authors swear by this technique. You start at the last word and you jump from one letter to the next attempting to read the novel backwards. I have found mistakes doing this that I missed in 15 or more read throughs. Why does it work? You are forcing your brain to perceive this as reading something new and to slow it down to check for sentence structuring in particular. This trick will at the very least catch missing words, wonky sentences, grammar faux pas and similar mistakes.
The Font Game
Being a super visual person, this technique works wonders for me. When I start to edit my novel, I change fonts for the read throughs. My choices of texts include Times New Roman, Georgia, Arial, Helvetica, Gill Sans, and many more. I try to flip between Sans-serif fonts (With no hooks like Arial) and Serif fonts (Has hooks like Times New Roman). The nice thing is that if you are proofreading using a Kindle or other e-Reader you can change fonts there as well! Once again, the change in font will help your brain see the story for what’s actually on the page. I usually find misspelled words, odd sentence structures, pacing issues, and other similar problems.
Read it some place different. Change up between reading it on actual paper, e-Reader, and the computer. Add in a font change on top of this and things will pop out for you more so. This really works for people who are more kinetic in learning styles (hands-on experience learner). I do this and it blows my mind that I read over the same mistake a billion times. This can help you catch pacing issues, structure issues, flaws in the story and in conjunction to a font change, grammar and vocabulary errors.
Read It Out Loud
This may seem weird, but sometimes reading it out loud to yourself can expose some awkward sentence structures or bad pacing. If you are too bashful for this concept, I highly recommend that you take advantage of software that can do this for you. Some devices are able to do this like your eReader. As for software, Adobe Reader, Microsoft Word, NaturalReader are just a few of the free options I have used personally. It may pronounce things funky at times, but it still helps me a lot when I can’t actively look at the font or can’t find anymore mistakes visually. Check out this site for some great options or more details on how to access this ability: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/5-ways-to-make-your-windows-computer-speak-to-you/
Volunteers & Editors
Bottomline, a professional editor is the best way to find and correct mistakes. It takes knowing what your writing flaws are in order to find the best match for an editor’s specialties. Doing so can get you the most out of the money you spend for their aid.
If you are like me, you have NO budget to pay for professional help and need to beg, plead and rope in volunteers to help you catch what you seem to be no longer catching after million of attempts to clean and edit your work. Keep in mind you need people who are interested in the story and love to read. After this, you will need to figure out who is good at seeing what. Some of your volunteers might be a grammar nazi while others are excellent at catching story plot issues or even pacing problems. As creepy as it may seem, I would keep track of who does get back to you, what they are good at and start to develop a solid reading group to help you work out all the nasty bits in your manuscript.
At the same time, both Editors and Volunteers will bring questions, concerns, likes, dislikes and more to the table. You are not going to always like what you hear, but I will say this; Don’t get upset and add it to your list or as a comment in your working file. Sometimes we get attached, nostalgic even over the story or areas we write and get very defensive when it’s brought to you as “I don’t think it needs to be here at all” or “This is horrible and does nothing for the story” or “This is confusing” and so on. MAKE A NOTE OF THESE, DO NOT GET UPSET. From personal experience I always note these, and after editing other areas I start to digest these and use them to my advantage. Often I have caved and deleted it and realized the story got stronger in that spot. Other times, I ask and dissect why this spot is giving my readers a hard time. When proofreaders mention an area or scene, it’s really good or really broken and they can’t see it clear enough to say much more.
- Read as you write
- Catch Inconsistencies
- Major problems
- Help develop Bad Habit List
Beta Readers – Proofreaders
- Grammar Nazis
- Compliment your Bad Habits
- Ask Questions often
- Clarity & Consistency
- Fellow Writers – Practice helps them too!
- Bad Habit list can increase efficiency!
Editors – Yes there are types!
- Find one that fits best
- Genre specific
- Line Editor
- Consistency, characters, plot, world
- Copy Editor
- Grammar, spelling, structure
- Always Review a Sample – No cost
- A must if you Self Publish
- Can be broken out into smaller chunks!
- Helps for prepping for working with an Agent/Publisher!
Walk Away Often
Editing can be the worst. You can get flustered or upset or hit large areas of finding nothing but can feel your gut screaming “There was stuff wrong there! I know it!” WALK AWAY. Give your eyes a rest and backtrack to that last mistake. Sometimes its good to come out of editing mode forget what you’ve been reading and jump back into it at your last found mistake. Breaking out of order and out of routine can help reboot and refresh your brain at the grueling task you are forcing it to take on. Besides, if you start to get mad or flustered, you’ll never do your story the justice it deserves!