I recently wrote a blog post about how I changed up my writing habit. If you want to read it (which you do, of course, how silly of me to ask), you can find it here. With this newfound love for writing, I realized I had to do something similar with editing, the result of which, is this post. Thank you for reading, and enjoy.
If you’re anything like me (or thousands of other authors), you hate editing. Some people love it, and more power to them, but I usually despise it. I find drafting so much more fun – incredible, enormous, giant heaps of more fun. Might have to do with the fact that I’m a mainly a pantser/discovery writer, so when I’m drafting I get to see the story for the first time which is amazing. And also, since I don’t plot, I have to correct a F**K TON of stuff afterward. …It’s cool, I’m cool. *labored breathing*
Anyway – what I usually do when I edit, is that I have a list of stuff to fix, and then I comb through it from top to bottom. You start with the big stuff: plot stuff, character arcs, character motivations, and you constantly move down to a smaller level, like sentence structure, grammar, typos. A to-do list for my editing might look like this:
- Fix major plot holes
- Resolve issues x43 and x12
- Develop character A & B
- Restructure chapters/scenes 35-42
- Rewrite: this and this and this
- Change character motivations for X
- Tighten relationship between E & F
- Add descriptions
- Tighten scenes
- Cut fluff
- Reread for spelling, grammar, typos (repeat until dead).
This isn’t necessarily a complete list, and it will of course depend on the type of story, the genre, the length, and the way in which you write, but you get the picture. I would have a list of this stuff, and I would comb through the entire manuscript time and time again. Usually, I would do just one or a few of these at at time. For example, I might “fix major plotholes” and “resolve issues” on the same round, but I wouldn’t worry about tightening small scenes or fixing typos (of course if I happened over some glaring ones, I’d make sure to fix them, but not actively).
This makes editing incredibly tedious and boring, in my opinion. An alternative, is of course doing it all in one go. Just going through the whole manuscript once, and fixing everything at the same time. If you can do that, you are amazing, good on ya. I can’t. First of all, it sounds absolutely overwhelming, and second, I wouldn’t trust myself that I’d be able to fix everything. In my opinion, it serves your work well that you comb through it a few times.
So, what I ended up changing wasn’t what I did, but how I did it. I still comb through the manuscript, time and time again, fixing stuff. But I’ve stopped doing it top to bottom, and I’ve stopped doing it so rigidly as explained above. Of course, I still have to comb through for typos, but with the other things, I’m much more free.
I’ll pick a thing I know I need to change or edit, and I’ll jump in somewhere. Say it’s a characters motivations. Maybe it was unclear in the first draft, or contradictory. Then I might want to get to the back of the book, to the last scene, and see if the character is still behaving how I want them to. If they are, great, lets jump to the beginning. Are they acting the same? Yes, no? Do we want them to or not? What about in the middle?
For some reason, jumping back and forth like this, makes it a lot easier to spot mistakes. I know the story from A to Z, I wrote it that way. I know what my character does in every chapter, and when I read it in that order, none of it surprises me. I’m finding it much easier to fix these things, if I’m jumping between different parts of the book.
Say we’re talking about a plot hole, something that didn’t quite come together. Instead of reading through the whole book, looking at how those things come to pass, look at the first and the last scene that are relevant to the event. See anything obvious that needs fixing? Or pick out all the scenes that has to do with this whatever-the-hell-it-is. Looking at them isolated, instead of wrapped around the rest of your story might be a great help.
I’ve done exactly the same when trying to tighten scenes. Instead of going from top to bottom, I’ll find a scene I really like, one to use as my standard. Then I’ll jump to somewhere else. Is that scene the same? Shorter? Longer? Does it pack the same punch? If it does or doesn’t, is it supposed to? Comparing these thing with each other, instead of looking at them within the framework of the entire manuscript, has helped me a lot.
The way I’ve changed my editing, is that instead of solely going from top to bottom through my manuscript (though I still have to do that too, obviously), I’ll isolate certain things I know I need to fix, and jump back and forth between them. This has made it much easier for me to look at those things objectively, instead of as a part of my writing, and correct them. It’s also made editing much more fun, and less daunting. Hopefully, it’s a method that can work for you too.