Join us as Edmond Manning goes Outside the Margins.
I saw a Facebook post yesterday from a fellow writer who posted that she had finished her manuscript’s first draft and it was time to begin editing. “I love writing stories,” she wrote, “but I hate editing. I hate looking at what I wrote.”
I was a bit shocked by this. Most of my best writing happens during editing. I didn’t get it, what she hated.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I do get it.
I suppose there’s the potential to reread your words and be thoroughly unimpressed. Every sentence sounds trite and you notice with a critical eye the many writing flaws you seem to embrace: over-dependence on adverbs, same boring descriptions, how many times you start sentences with the word “So…” It can be disconcerting to find out you make the same rookie mistakes as other less-experienced writers, especially when you thought you were creating something original.
Well, that surprising disappointment doesn’t happen to me.
Why not? Well, I assume my first draft will be fairly unimpressive. I count on it. Some of my best sentences are crafted during Round Three edits. To me, finishing a first draft is nothing more than laying down the wooden planks in the backyard for the magnificent treehouse I intend to construct. We’ve barely begun.
I may not be able to convince someone who hates editing to love it. But I’ll share with you what I do and maybe there are some techniques you can steal that will make your editing less tedious. (And if my process fills you with dread, then you can finish this article and think, ‘Thank god, I’m not that nutjob.’)
Edmond’s Round One
Reread for plot. Which chapters are boring? What’s missing? What character traits are begun eagerly in the beginning and then fade away in the final third of the book?
For example, most of my books have the same narrator, Vin Vanbly. The first three books in my series The Lost and Founds cover a span of nine years. Vin’s voice, as narrator, cannot be the same in each book or else he hasn’t grown in a person. In later books, his sentences are beautiful, polished. His grief, while still swirling around him, reflects a sadder, more mature understanding. In his earlier years, his sentences are shorter, more staccato. His grief is explosive, not yet tamed and mastered.
When I write plot and action, I sometimes forget to focus on Vin’s voice and who he is during this particular year. Therefore, my Round One edits focus on the plot and how well the narrator matches his age and experiences at the time of the telling.
I put on the glasses of a reader and say, “Will I recognize Vin, the narrator from the previous two books? Will I notice what’s different?”
I love reading from the readers’ perspective!
I don’t always fix things in this round of editing. I add comments like, “Reduce these two chapters by 20%” or “Explain why Vin knows XYZ before we get to the sewers.” I find this high level edit a great way to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the draft without getting too bogged down in fixing problems. Identified problems will get fixed later.
Edmond’s Round Two
Oops, it’s now later.
Now I roll up my sleeves and make these chapters work. I tend to over-write, so now is the time for me to grab my editing machete and start slashing. I have fun in this round of edits by making reduction goals for myself and seeing if I can meet them.
For example, after my Round One edits to King Mai, I felt the book was waaaaaaaaaaaay too long. These men spent way too much time running through corn fields. I decided that I would reduce the book by roughly 60K. This was not just “a chunk” of words, this was like eliminating three full chapters. You can’t make that kind of reduction by fixing three or four run-on sentences.
During Round Two, I made a little chart. The longer chapters I wanted to reduce by 15%. The shorter chapters I wanted reduced by 10%. After editing each chapter, I’d track the progress in a spreadsheet. When I cut roughly 20% from some chapters, I got giddy with geekish delight. Making these little goals and achieving them really focused me on dealing with my ridiculous desire to use all the words known to man.
But what do you cut?
Well, you know the sage writerly advice which people love to throw out called, “Kill your darlings?” The premise is that you, diva that you are, must cut and trim away your beautiful, beautiful words, even though you love each and everyone one.
You shouldn’t kill your darlings, you should kill your non-darlings. If you finish reading a paragraph and nothing in it strikes you as special or unique, well, cut it out. Axe the whole thing. If the sentences sparkle, keep them. Why would you kill your best darlings?
On the other hand, if you wrote a GREAT sentence and yet it doesn’t fit, cut it.
But don’t throw it away.
When I begin Round Two edits, I start a second document open behind my manuscript. Whenever I come upon sentences, paragraphs, or whole pages that I feel should be axed, I copy and paste to the new document saved as (CURRENT BOOK TITLE) EXTRAS.docx. If I later decide I can’t live without that scene, that one insightful sentence, I can always go back and retrieve it from the EXTRAS document. I have an EXTRAS document from King Mai with 67 pages of unused (scrapped) words. Occasionally I went back to that document and reintegrated a great sentence or passage. But mostly, once it was gone from the manuscript, I forgot about it.
Edmond’s Round Three
Okay, I admit that this round of editing is a little over the top. It’s weird. But I like it, and it makes my writing so much better. Bear with me.
I find there are words I overuse. Here are a few:
- A little bit
- Pretty (as in pretty much or pretty tired)
- So I can
- There are…
- There were…
- There is…
You get the idea.
In fact, I have a spreadsheet with 74 of these over-used words. I do a search and replace in my manuscript for each of these 74 over-used constructions. I replace the word with the exact same word, but its replacement is 16 point font and hot pink.
Then, I read every sentence of the manuscript. It’s quite distracting to read every sentence full of hot pink words. And it’s discouraging to come upon sentence after sentence that has five or six infractions all in the same damn sentence. I won’t lie. It’s humbling.
But guess what? This is what makes writing better.
I don’t fix every single instance. I think some sentences should begin “There are…” because sometimes that’s how the narrator thinks. It’s common. But when you find there are a total of 240 instances of the word “just” in your entire manuscript, c’mon. That’s just lazy writing.
This round of editing takes a while. But for me, it’s the only guarantee that my sentences sparkle the way I want. I rewrite a lot of sentences.
To reward myself after this taxing phase of editing, I do a second search and replace all the hot pink words remaining with their normal-sized and normal-colored counterparts. What a pleasure it is to see the 240 instances of “just,” reduced to 82. Ahhhhh….nerdgasm.
Edmond’s Round Four
Use Microsoft Word’s Spell Check. I know it’s a cliché how many writers rely on Spell Check as their one source of self-editing. But you’d be surprised how many new mistakes get made while editing a manuscript. (Or rather, if you’re an author, you’re not surprised. You’re annoyed, like me.)
Edmond’s Round Five
No big explanations to this round of editing. But I sit and read the manuscript from beginning to end, every sentence aloud. I sit in my big chair upstairs in my bedroom and read, read, read. This can take a week to accomplish because there are only so many sentences you can read aloud during one sitting before you stop listening to yourself. I can usually stand to read about two chapters before I go a little nuts.
The challenge is I have to listen to every sentence, not just read it. I do this to find missing words, sentences that don’t make sense (casualties of my aggressive Round Three edits), and it ends up being another version of Round One edits where I see the plot, characters, and narrator in a new light again.
Edmond’s Round Six: Send to a Professional Editor
You’re probably thinking, ‘Wait, you do all that work and now you send it out for professional editing?’
Isn’t all this editing over the top? Maybe. Reveals some OCD tendencies? Possibly.
But do you know what’s humiliating?
Having readers email you to say, “I found 17 mistakes in your most recent book. Would you like to know where they are?”
Plus, when I work with a professional editor, I want them to scour my manuscript for every little flaw. How can they effectively scour when they’re so busy catching and noting all the big stuff I would have caught myself if I had done a better job of self-editing?
Even with all this editing, I have learned to live with mistakes in the final manuscript. It’s a tough thing to accept, but they do slip by. But at least I’ve done everything I can to eliminate them.
I realize editing can be a chore.
I try to have fun with it. Make goals for myself. Invent little games, such as “how many ‘seems’ can I get rid of?” But in the end, it’s still editing, wringing the most possible meaning I can from each sentence.
Editing is nothing more than waltzing with sentences to the unique tune we create as authors. And what could be more lovely than an evening spent waltzing with sentences?
~ Edmond Manning
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
|This post may contain affiliate links.
|Prism Book Alliance® assumes no liability for the ownership of photos or content used in guest posts and interviews. The post author assumes all responsibility and liability for this content.|