Writing Discussion

The Craft of Editing

People don’t talk about editing as much as writing. I know a lot of people hate this part, but important and a difficult skill to master.

Just like writing, approaches to editing seem to be as individual. Some people edit as they go, take what they worked on the day before, and edit it before proceeding to the next part. Some people work on one piece at a time and produce something polished in one session because they incorporate the editing into the writing.

I have to leave the editing until the story is done or I’ll get too bogged down with worry. I’m also a refiner. I like to do multiple passes, because I tend to focus on one aspect of the story at a time. Word choice comes last.

There’s usually one point I get to where every story ‘clicks’. It’s a bit like digging through dirt, and finding a little bit of gold beneath the surface. The click is when things get exciting again, I see the potential, the true story beneath, and I can’t wait to get the story done so that I can share it with someone.

Editing a novel has been a challenge mainly due to scope. There are so many details to remember and sort through, and threads to pull through to the end, it can be daunting to keep track of them all. It’s a lot of words to go through again, and again, and again – but it just has to be done. Every time I know I’m getting closer.

I’ve also discovered the benefits of doing a quick pass. Going through the printed page has made it so much easier to spot mistakes. The speed also makes it easier to identify the flow of the story. It’s much more like a reading experience than a writing one.

Honestly, I was worried a few weeks ago because even after 4 drafts, I hadn’t seen the gold in the mud yet. It usually takes me no more than 4, but every story is different. I needed a little faith to persist, but I’m finally at the point where I’ve seen the glitter.  There’s still a whole lot of work to do but I’m getting there. I’ll be done with the paper by the end of the weekend, and then I’ll have to type in all the changes. This is the last stretch!

Do you have any editing tips you’d like to share? How to you manage revisions?

23 Comments

  1. In the past, when I was younger, I edited as I went. If something didn’t sound right when I wrote it, I’d stop and wait until I figured out a better way. This didn’t stop me from going back and fixing it later, but usually I’d have a pretty good first draft.

    I learned to do actual revisions in college. For me, the process now is: (1) first draft, (2) initial pass to clean up grammar and wording, (3) pass off to Alpha/Beta readers. I can’t really do a deep dive edit until after the alpha-betas. Their comments help direct me. I also usually have to let the story sit and stew; for a few days, a few weeks, or possibly longer, depending on the story. As I let it sit, and later read the comments from readers and ruminate on them, something of the platonic ideal of my story starts to crystalize in my brain. When I finally go back to it, I will see that it is emphatically not the platonic ideal now firmly ensconced in my mind. So, I start to see what I need to do to fix it.

    That’s when I’m able to do things like say, “oh, this needs foreshadowing better” and write a new scene earlier on to foreshadow, or “this scene isn’t doing anything” and delete it or “this scene needs to be here” and cut-n-paste it elsewhere into the story. Basically, all the meta-level edits. This could take a couple drafts…

    Finally, it’s time to do one more clean read to review for more spelling, grammar, punctuation and style again. This is probably when I’ll start double checking for things like passive-voice and other stylistic problems.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      Funny how the stories in our heads do not always match the stories on the page hehe. One of the biggest challenges for me is figuring out how to tell the real story better.

      I find it interesting that you use the beta readers so early on in the process. Do you let anyone else look at the the draft again after fixing the last round of stylistic problems?

      1. Yeah, beta comments are pretty important to me, and I want them early. Betas usually get to see what is essentially the first draft… or maybe draft 1.5.

        Historically, no, there hasn’t been a second round reading, but I think that’s mostly because I haven’t had that many readers to begin with, and I don’t have enough stories under my belt. I could definitely see myself using a gamma reader later in the process as a check to make sure I’ve gone in the right direction.

  2. OMG, I just realized I practically wrote an entire blog post, haha. New plan!

    It’s so exciting to find those “gold nuggets!” I am excited for you just reading about your experience, lol.

    Okay, so here’s what I’ve done/am still doing (I’ll just make it a list):
    • printed out the beastly manuscript single-spaced and with two pages to a sheet—because I’m a cheap college student like that and hey, it works for me (cost: $22 at Kinkos with a loyal customer discount);
    • get the red pen out when major changes need to be made
    • use sticky notes for additions
    • sometimes highlight things I feel should have more importance and would like to bring out more in the story
    • pencil in minor, less world-changing alterations (grammar, sentence structure, the nitpicky stuff)

    I think I will focus on stylistic changes when I actually start doing chapter and scene rewrites. (Only did one so far, which became distracting, in some ways.)

    Things (so far) I’m glad I’ve done:
    • edited things as I went along (those sections I spent the most time on are currently my strongest, conceptually)
    • took the time to really explore my characters and world
    • never stopped working on the project altogether

    Things I wish I hadn’t done:
    • spent so much time editing while writing the first draft
    • getting too caught up on making things “perfect”

    So is only half as long as my first attempt at a reply, haha. I am learning a great deal about editing as a blogger, as you can see.

    1. Isn’t that printing really tiny? Hehe I have terrible eyes. I’d probably go blind trying to read my notes on that, but I hear you, printing can get expensive.

      Hey you could always post it up on your blog too if there’s more. I’d love to hear!

      1. Okay! Haha.

        Yeah, the print is small, but I print out everything like that, particularly for school, when there’s more than a couple of pages of stuff to read and it’s just for me to mark up. I tend to cram things into really small spaces out of habit. Not sure why. (Like my room. I’ve got this really spacious bedroom, right, but my work/messes are always concentrated into tiny little areas. I don’t tend to sprawl unless I’m working on something especially huge, in which case I’ll take over the world–mwahaha!)

  3. I think it’s tough to self-edit. Doing it yourself is certainly part of the process, but I think you need another pair of objective and constructive eyes to go through your work.

    1. Yes it’s always valuable. The writer’s always too close to the writing to pick up everything. I’m not there yet in my process, but I will send it out for review after this draft is done.

  4. I find that it’s impossible for me to edit as I go because I’m overly self-critical. I would never get anything done or even written. =P It’s always a struggle for me to overcome my perfectionist persona that won’t even let me type a sentence out for fear of all possible mistakes. I try to just get my ideas out first, wholly and completely, and then I go back and edit, so it actually makes sense to someone other than me. =)

    So exciting for you to have “seen the glitter!” That makes it all worthwhile. =)

  5. I’ve been tempted to post screenshots of pages from my rough drafts. People need to recognize that a rough draft is healthy to draw up before a first draft. I’ll have entire pages covered in bold, italics and parenthetical notes to my future self. Some problems you can fix immediately, but everything else needs to be logged and left for you to return to. Most amateur and emerging writers I’ve met have the erroneous notion that the first version of what they write has to be close to finished. That will only be true if they’re extremely gifted, extremely lucky, or most likely, much later in their careers when they have more experience.

    1. I’d be interested to see how rough your rough drafts are. I will likely post a photo of my current draft, and that’s crossed off and annotated so much it bleeds. It’s a bit horrifying to look at, but satisfying to produce. At the 50% mark of the story I ran out of ink (and the pen was new when I started). There’s still lots to fix even at this stage in the game, which is almost done.

      What’s the difference between the rough draft and the first draft by your definition?
      Before I begin to write each scene/chapter in the first draft I usually scribble out a rough outline of what I’m going to write before sitting down to type.

  6. I haven’t mastered editing (not even close) but I also have to print out and review the paper copy because I don’t catch the mistakes on the computer screen.

    Good luck on your editing. How exciting that you’re so close to finishing it!

  7. I’m horrible about managing revisions, but since I started from a coding background, I’m very tempted to use subversion or something like it. However, I started using Scrivener for writing and this will probably complicate the matter significantly. Previously, I was writing text files and using LaTeX to generate manuscript format; which was an ideal format for source code control systems to work with.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      I haven’t worked out a great system for this either, though I was tempted to investigate some kind of CMS or version control system. I did notice that if you upload a .doc file to google docs you can add a new version, and keep your old revisions that way. For now though, I have one main file (undated) that I do all my work in, and after every draft I save a copy with a date attached to it. Would be hard to do with Scrivener and multiple files though.

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