How To Edit In The Most Rewarding Way

I was chatting with a friend the other day about writing, and I casually explained how I go through feedback, do revisions, and edit my writing when I get it back from an editor, and their reaction to my methods made me realize I had to write this blog post.

Of course, they thought I was insane (I’ll get to why in a moment), but let me first defend myself:

  1. I do it this way because I find it easier to organize myself and my documents like this.
  2. And more importantly, because it’s rewarding like hell.

So here’s a little How-To guide from me about how I edit.

Now, I’m going to assume we all receive feedback in the same way: as a copy of the document we sent through to be edited, except it’s full of comments, red text, cut words, suggestions for rewrites, character removals, and highlighted plot holes. I know, it can be rough. Now, hopefully there’s some good in there too. Some delightful comments, some cheering for the chapters that are just “so amazing!” and some heartfelt praise.

Here’s what I do when I receive one of these:

Step 1 – Read all of it, without doing anything, then close the document down. Do something else for a few days. Then rinse and repeat step one and wait another few days. Two rounds of just looking over all the comments and getting a general feel for the feedback is usually enough for me. The first read-through is for panicking, the second is for acceptance.

Step 2 – This is where my friend thought I was crazy. I don’t actually edit in the document I receive from my editor. I make two copies of it. One I put in a Feedback folder, untouched, in case I ever need to look at it again. The other I rename to something along the lines of “Project X Feedback DELETE AFTER.

Step 3 – Open the original draft you sent through to your editor – the one without any comments (or make a new copy and renumber it so that you’re keeping a copy of your old one), and open the “DELETE AFTER” copy of your feedback.

Step 4 – Here’s where it starts getting rewarding. Remember all those big, bold comments in red? They can be quite daunting. The first thing I do, is delete all the ones that are just praise or general comments. Anything along the lines of “Cool!,” “Love this part!,” and “Oooh, exciting paragraph.” Sure, those are all great (and I keep them in my archived copy of the feedback) but they’re just in the way. Get rid of them.

Step 5 – Now I start actually editing my work, in my own copy of the manuscript. As I go through, taking onboard whatever feedback I agree with and dismissing whatever I don’t, I delete them from the “DELETE AFTER” copy of the feedback. Anything I need to discuss with my editor I leave be for now, or I’ll skip it until the very end, because often I might have reached a conclusion on my own by then and I’ll be able to deal with them myself.

The thing is, once you start clearing out all the positive feedback, and the pesky little word changes or typos that are quite easy to handle, you’ll probably find there’s not so many major problems left. Clear them out, get rid of them, and you’ll find it gets easier to handle with everyone that disappears. And all those huge things, like big rewrites or lacking character motivation – you mull those over as you clean out the small stuff. Suddenly, when you come back around to them, you’ll see the solution clearly.

And the reason I edit in a clean draft, without the actual comments in is just because it keeps me organized. Sure, I have to have two documents open, but I’m much more focused when I don’t have to tackle (and see) all the red comments at the same time, up and down the page. I’ll pick one, swap to my other document, sort it out, then delete it from the feedback and go on to the next.

To me, it’s the most satisfying way to work – like crossing chores of a list. It’s fantastic.

Oh, and if you’re really keen on making the whole process more rewarding, I can suggest removing whole chapters from your “DELETE AFTER” document once you’re done editing them. Seeing the page number count of that document drop, really helps you visualize the end of your revisions.

And that’s it. Two copies of the manuscript, one clean, one with comments, and I purge those red bastards as soon as I’m done with it.

That’s how I do it… How do you edit? Am I as crazy as my friend thinks, or is there reason to my madness? I’d love to hear what you think!

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