Statistic say that 97.2% of writers absolutely dread editing.
And these statistics are super accurate because I asked myself 97.2 times whether I liked editing or not and I cried EVERY SINGLE TIME. So that survey was a success.
But the fact of the day is: you must do it.
If you want to be a writer, you need to edit. And I mean this from the very depths of my stone cold heart. * If you have never seriously edited your novel(s) then you’re doing yourself a HUGE disservice in your writing growth. Editing is when you really build your novel. Editing is when you learn. Editing is when your words learn to mean more. Editing is when you set your hair on fire and run into a brick wall five times while beating yourself in the face with a teaspoon.
Oh, ummmm…wait. Ignore that last one. THAT NEVER HAPPENS. **
But editing is HARD. And I will give you a brief list of reasons why it’s so hard. Ha. As if you needed convincing.
- There’s a lot more PRESSURE on you now. 1st drafts were like “HIT THE KEYBOARD AND CALL IT A NOVEL” but in edits you actually have to…you know…pretend you know what language this book is written in.
- When you finish, you’ll have to let people read it. #KillMeNow
- Oftentimes you finish edits and realise your edits need edits. #KillMeTwice
- The problems can be so HUGE and MONUMENTAL that you don’t know HOW to possibly fix them.
- Or, even worse: you would edit but you have no freaking clue HOW TO START.
I am here to help you with #5: HOW DO I START EDITING. And by “help” I mean I’ll do nothing of the sort except show you how I do it and my way is continually the best way.
HA! I’m kidding. The important thing (as with all aspects of writing) is to figure out what works for you. But if you still don’t know where to start, working off other people’s advice can be #extremely #helpful. Then change things so your process suits YOU. The only right way to write or edit is the way that works for you.
* My heart is, unfortunately, not very deep. But you get my drift.
I have posted about editing before, with my editing process back in 2015 and my 2nd drafting process back in 2014…which was practically before the egg was invented. Things will be repeated from there! But who was even following me back in 2014 except for my mother and many Russians, hmm?! SO HERE WE GO FOR THE FRESH VERSION.
Also YES I USE SCRIVENER. And no you do not have to use Scrivener! But I wrote an ode to why Scrivener is my favourite of ever here, if you’re keen to be convinced.
STEP #1: MAKE YOURSELF A SCHEDULE AND A PROMISE.
Because editing is super easy to back out of and if you don’t have a deadline (like an agent !! asking !! for it !! yesterday !!) then you’ll need to be your own deadline.
Make a plan! Mine generally looks like “edit 1 chapter per day.” Then make a promise! Mine often looks like “if you edit every single day you can buy a book at the end”.
For me, guilt is also huge motivator. Like I want to be a writer. I want to make it a career. I don’t get to do that if I don’t show up and type the words.
And heck yes there are days when you won’t be able to edit. I decided to (a) edit my 2016 NaNo novel, while (b) MOVING HOUSE TO A LOCATION 2,000KMS AWAY OMG CAIT WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU. So there were days in that when I couldn’t edit because I was too busy crying over how to pack 600+ books in 14 boxes or being carsick.
But the point is: make goals and stick to them. Be serious with yourself. Your book and you deserve this.
STEP #2: START BY RE-READING YOUR WHOLE MANUSCRIPT
This often feels like stabbing yourself in the eyeballs with small bees. Because 1st drafts are not generally very good. Okay fine: they’re awful. But stop melting onto the floor, you can do this.
STEP #3: TAKE NOTES ON HOW TERRIBLE A WRITER YOU ARE.
OKAY FINE I AM JUST KIDDING. Don’t kill your delicate self esteem. Feed your self esteem brownies and tell it that it is working hard and one day will fall into a pit of jewels and be able to buy a moon. Or, ya know, one day you’ll get a nap. I don’t know. Aim high or low, it’s up to you.
Make lists of things that need fixing. If you’re using Word, use the “comment” feature! Or just pull up a fresh document and start writing things down as you read.
I keep a lot of my notes in my head which is 50000% unadvisable because you WILL FORGET THINGS THAT WAY.
One of my notes was “make romance actually romantic” so that can tell you right there how doomed I was.
STEP #4: WRITE DOWN WHAT YOUR BOOK’S THEMES, MESSAGE, AND WHAT POINT IS.
Because, if you’re like me, you’ll forget at least 9 times a day what you’re trying to SAY with this novel. So write it down. This will make writing blurbs/pitches easier too. Also go ahead and write those if you don’t have them yet. I write my blurbs before I even START the novel. #Winning
- your reoccurring themes
- how your character changes/grows
- what messages you’re talking about
- what hogwarts house your characters are in *
* What???!??! THIS IS CRUCIAL AND IT’S WORK. And FYI I write mostly Slytherins and Hufflepuffs and have no regrets.
STEP #5: TURN YOUR BRAIN INTO A STORM.
By which I mean “brainstorm” but turning into the X-Men Storm herself is 10/10 a good idea too.
Some of your notes for fixing could be “FIX MASSIVE PLOT HOLE” and so you need to actually think about how to fix it. By which I mean you need to make sure you have TIME TO THINK. A lot of people fill up every square second of their day…sometimes they even fill up the triangle seconds. #DoNotRecommend If you don’t have time to just imagine scenes and solutions, how are you going to fix this???
How I Brainstorm:
- exercising while thinking about my book is my 500% preferred one. Moving physically helps me to move mentally.
- I sometimes lie down on the floor and think…do not recommend. Usual ends in a nap.
- Talking with a friend about the plot problem often ends up in you solving it yourself.
- OR your friend might say something helpful.
- But usually no.
- Ew humans.
- Failing a friend, I find writing to myself about the problem helps. Aka basically writing almost a journal entry (or a blog post you’ll never post!) where I say this and this and this are the issues…could I do this and this to fix them? No? Okay, maybe THIS then. Write yourself lists of options.
- I stand out in the weather and let my brain get rained on. Still waiting for this to work???? Maybe someday???
This might take a few days, which is totally cool. The thing about editing is that you need to be prepared to put in steady but tediously serious effort. And IT IS WORKING. Even if you’re not adding words to your manuscript yet, this is still crucial! Not all writing is actually writing words down.
STEP #6: NOW GO AHEAD AND RE-WRITE THE WHOLE DARN THING.
“Ummmm, Cait,” you say, thinking of that small brick you keep in your backyard that you plan to brain me with in a second, “you said this post was about EDITING.”
Well it is about editing. Some people edit a sentence and it looks cool. I prefer to totally rewrite it. Because I write a sentence once, and I have a sentence. I write a sentence twice, and I have a better sentence. I always always make my book better the second time round. I think of a better word! Or I make the sentence clearer, shorter, more concise. Or I make the sentence make sense, which I believe is handy.
I like to split my manuscript into two screens and then rewrite and delete as I go. I keep one screen in red to remind me of the BLOOD OF MINE ENEMIES.
Failing Scrivener, you can do this in a Word doc too, with either two docs side-by-side, or just red text below and rewrite the new above.
Honestly it’s a lot of work and every 5 minutes I check for job openings as a sheep herder in Iceland.
STEP #7: GO AHEAD AND SET YOUR HAIR ON FIRE NOW. WAIT WAIT WAIT NO SKIP THIS STEP JUST SKIP IT OMG WHO’S WRITING THIS POST.
STEP #7 (FOR REAL NOW): THINGS I TAKE NOTICE OF AND TRY TO FIX OR ELSE JUST GENERALLY CRY ABOUT.
- Repetition — how many times did I describe his eyeballs??? Delete them all.
- Overused words — Like I used “tuck” so freaking much I nearly wrote a book on how to fold a bed-sheet.
- Chapters — I don’t write first drafts in chapters, I write scenes. So now I have to figure out chapter breaks.
- Cliffhangers and Hooks — I’m a big believer in always making sure the reader is ENGAGED. To my book. Like I want to see them married, okay? So the first sentence in each chapter = must be a hook. The last sentence in each chapter = hopefully is mildly cliffhangery. Make the reader want to keep reading.
- The first sentence, of course, must be perfect. WHYYYYY IS THIS SO HARD. I like my first sentences to (A) obviously totally hook the reader in with 100% levels of awesome, and (B) tell who the narrator is, and (C) set the scene, but also (D) set the whole book. No pressure.
- REPETITION. I say this twice because I’m annoying. But also because this. is. so. crucial. You WILL over-explain. You WILL say the same thing too many times. YOU MUST FIX THIS NOW AND YOU MUST TAKE IT OUT.
- Make sure your characters are consistent. And interesting. All your characters need complexities. All your characters have their own goals and subplots.
STEP #8: ADD THINGS IN.
- Add in description. I suck at description so bad. So 2nd drafts and edits are when I put that in. You might need to take over-described scenes out. Know your own failings and strengths!
- Add in the 5 senses. Ohhh this is SO IMPORTANT. If you want to take your book from “yeah that was cool” to “I ACTUALLY FELT LIKE I WAS IN THE STORY” for readers, the super big secret is: the 5 senses. Don’t just tell us what the characters see. What do they smell? (SMELL IS SUCH A GOOD ONE.) What do they taste. What do they feel. What’s the texture like???
- Don’t use 5 words of description, use powerful ones. So when you want to say “She ate a sandwich” say “she ate a toasted cheese sandwich”. Don’t go into this too much. Like, heck I do not want to know the exact shade of fuchsia of your underwear. But the little descriptions are what makes the book feel real. Take a second more to say her shoes were scuffed, instead of just “she put on shoes”…something that helps describe the character. When you do this, you take out the need to do MASSIVE info-description dumps.
- Add in (or take out) characters! I always add in my villains in draft #2. Because I’m a failure.
- Add in scenes. If you don’t have enough, now is a good time!
- Bulk up your book by fleshing out scenes. I actually need to trim my books, so please don’t listen to this advice, okay Cait? But as for anyone else who has a puny book who needs to eat more: flesh out your scenes. Did you just say she cooked dinner? Put a pivotal character conversation in amongst her cooking.
- MAKE SURE EACH SCENE COUNTS. If it doesn’t actually move the plot forward, axe it. I like axing things. It’s fun. Fuels my Slytherin soul of the dark.
STEP #9: FIX TYPOS
I mean, duh.
Bu also learn how to spell, or you end up like me using “venerable” and “vulnerable” interchangeably until your critique partner * starts weeping.
* Hi Emily. Do you have so many regrets.
STEP #10: BE PROUD OF YOURSELF!!
I know it’s popular to always say “Oh my book isn’t good enough yet” and like, true son. It’s probably not. But you still need to learn how to be PROUD of the things you achieve.
I’ll be honest: I so so freaking loved this book I just edited. The editing was really tough, obviously. But I loved my characters. I loved seeing them fleshed out more. I finished it and just was SO PROUD OF IT. It’s not perfect after draft #2, but it’s getting there.
Also award yourself with cake at all times. Because yes.
STEP #11: IT’S OKAY IF IT NEEDS ANOTHER DRAFT.
My completion of draft #2 edits is generally formatting it onto a Word doc, doing another complete read-through to catch typos, and sending it to my critique partner or sister or, in this case (but not always), my agent. It’s a good time to get a second opinion! Then you can go into round #3 with a better idea of what needs fixing.
However you might want to do another rewrite. Or another line edit. I do line edits in with my massive edits because #lazy. Whatever works for you! Follow your instincts!
However if you’re saying “nope, I must do another rewrite it’s not perfect yet, the world can’t see it” then you are WRONG, JANE. VERY WRONG. You will never never get it perfect by yourself. You can read your book 187 times and there will still be plot holes and mistakes and typos because you’re too close. The second opinion is crucial. Do it.
“So where do I get a critique partner if I don’t haaave one, Cait?” you whine because I haven’t fed you any cupcakes this WHOLE POST because I ate them all and am a monster.
Excellent question. I have no idea. I can’t even remember how I found mine. Friends can be good! But sometimes you need someone who isn’t afraid to be tough. There are critique partner match-ups and things on occasion across the internets. I could host one?? But I don’t know if it’d be big enough to be worthwhile, SO LET ME KNOW. But finding CP’s is like a huge topic so we shan’t eat it now. Just know you. can’t. do. it. alone.
Which is a huge relief, let’s be real.
STEP #12: I DON’T KNOW, MATE, TAKE A NAP OR SOMETHING.
I generally have a “post-editing hangover” which my mother will attest to because I just sit around the house moping all day because I LOST MY BABY PROJECT. IT’S OVER NOW. So take a nap or make a sandwich or wash your cat or eat the moon or socialise or all those things you were neglecting.
You’ve done well, pure child of the darkness.
Now go write more.
There was a lot of information here and we’re probably all DEAD. So here’s a brief recap.
- Write down the message of your book.
- Editing isn’t a speed contest. Go slow. Be thorough.
- Write yourself notes of problems to fix.
- Give yourself time to brainstorm.
- Make your description vivid but concise.
- Don’t repeat yourself.
- Don’t repeat yourself.
- And be proud of what you’ve achieved, even if it’s not perfect yet.
- ALSO CAKE, YOU KUMQUAT, OBVIOUSLY CAKE.