I recently finished the third draft of my current WIP, and maybe you can identify with the very academic and scholarly feeling of WHOOOHOOO that coursed through my body.
Thinking I was sooo close to The End (I envisioned 4th Draft as being as simple as addressing a few pages of additional notes chapter-by-chapter), you can imagine how annoying it was to find that every time I went to open the novel’s folder, I stalled—ended up reading blogs, posting at forums, playing with my dogs . . . I even found myself doing dishes and catching up on laundry (the true sign of how low I stooped). At first I thought it was just my ever-present, all-too-common love of work avoidance. Then I read Alexandra Sokoloff’s recent Murderati post, “On Genre, Sort of,” followed her link to a post on her personal blog, “Top Ten Things I Know About Editing,” and had a huge Aha! moment.
The lightning-strike comment regarded doing what Alexandra calls a “genre pass.” I’ve never written according to genre before (but I should have. Reading her post made me realize why my first novel, a book I still believe in, got full-reads and good comments from agents, but no offers for representation. It’s women’s fiction, and I should’ve taken comments from literary markets, “It’s too commercial,” and from more mainstream markets, “It’s too literary” and jumped off the fence, picked a group of target readers and edited with them in mind. In fact, I still might do just that—but I digress . . .). The story I’m working on now is a mystery/suspense with supernatural elements. Writing-wise, I feel like I’ve discovered my home. Editing-wise, I now realize that I wasn’t putting off my “last” add-ins, because I have a penchant for household chores. My subconscious writer knew something (as usual) that my usually perceptive inner editor didn’t: The kind of cool/creepy things my brain has been throwing my way lately aren’t for my next book (well, some of them are), they’re to intensify this one.
A small part of me is disappointed (I so wanted to hand over my story with a big “Ta-da—c’est fini!” to my first readers), but the largest part is relieved and excited. I know what I need to do to feel right about calling this book “finished” and sharing it—and that really demands a big WHOOOHOO. Maybe even two.
I’m getting ready to launch into edit-land this February, and on a forum I moderate, I asked the following question: Do you have a specific process or system for your edits, or do you just kind of wing it, improving whatever you notice needs work each time through?
Laying out my answer was very interesting – what a lot of work editing is! It was also affirming – what a lot of work I do! I think the list will even be helpful; I can use it as a guide over the next few months. When I hit the dreaded, “I’ll NEVER finish this book” stage, I can come back at myself with, “Of course, you will. Only three edits left!” Heh heh.
Without any further ado, in the hopes that might be of some use to you too, here’s my answer.
I have a very specific editing process. I go through 8-10 full edits (not including that I edit for punctuation/spelling/grammar as I go, and that I usually do a page or two of storyline tweaking before I begin each day’s new writing).
- 1st edit: Make sure the story line is intact and write notes on holes/time glitches,etc.
- 2nd edit: Fix said holes in plots, time glitches, etc.
- 3rd edit: Look closely at each character’s motivations/voice/way of coming across and make notes about anything I find out-of character, contradictory or unconvincing.
- 4th edit: Character therapy! Try to get those characters to be/show who they really are (good, bad, terrifying – it’s nice to not have to make them healthy per se, heh heh).
- 5th: Can I amp up the tension/suspense? (Always Yes with a capital Y.)
- 6th: I usually have noticed more holes in plot by this time and more places where it seems slow or plodding — fix, fix, fix.
- 7th: This is pickiest edit yet. Using points from Self-editing for Fiction Writers – How to edit yourself into print by Renni Browne and Dave King, I do a chapter-by-chapter look at show and tell, characterization and exposition, proportion, dialogue and interior monologue, easy beats, the concept “once is usually enough” (looking for places where I keep dropping redundant hints re: characters personalities, etc… The reader knows the mc’s afraid of the dark already! Wink), and at sophistication and voice.
- 8th: I read the whole story aloud to hear its cadence, especially trying to hear how the dialogue comes across.
- 9th: Proofread for typos.
- 10th (etc): Try to incorporate suggestions from first readers, if I feel the suggestions have merit (and sigh, they’re usually dead on!).
- Etc 2: Decide so and so is an utter failure–re-write him/her again (sometimes Etc 2 gets stuck on replay and I end up doing a lot of character work at this point).
- Etc 3: Go a little crazy (crazier?) and realize that for better or for worse, I need to put the story down and step away from the story. It’s finished and I must start something new.