QOTW: Editing and Revising

23 Jul


This week, the question comes from NLMars, who asks:

I’m currently editing my first novel, and I was curious to know how you guys edit, and what processes you go through until you know that it’s publishable material. Do you have any tips and hints?

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Once upon a time, not so very very long ago, I thought that editing meant “line-editing.” I would say, “Oh, I’m editing my novel now” and change nothing but comma placements and things like that. Yeah, it wasn’t working. Luckily, I got myself some awesome critique partners who taught me that *gasp* I might actually need to do things like change my plot and characters!

So now I try to write my first draft as quickly as possible. It’s kind of like my first draft/really detailed outline. At this point, I have no to little idea where the story is going. This is pantsing at its finest, haha. I usually get about 3/4 through the story. Then I stop, let the story sit for a few days or weeks. After that, I go back and start over, building on my first draft. Some scenes are kept more or less intact. Others are deleted or revised heavily. Characters are cut out or added in or fleshed out. I put in foreshadowing that didn’t exist before because I didn’t know what I was supposed to be foreshadowing!

This time, I write to the end (usually). I let it sit for a little while again. So far, only HYBRID has gotten past this phase, so I’ll just tell you what I did with it afterwards. I went back and polished until it was presentable to eyes other than mine (namely, those of my lovely CPs). Off my story went. Then, when I got feedback, I revised again for a month or two, then sent it back (because my CPs are awesome like that and will read my ms twice).

Finally, I polished, polished, polished some more. And yay, off to agents!

The Writer Querying

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I was like Kat… editing = line editing, in my head. Way long ago I didn’t have writer friends, or a real understanding of the industry, and I hadn’t heard any stories about complete rewrites with massive plot rehauls. So yes, I went through 10 ‘revisions’ where I replaced corny sentences and adjusted commas, but there weren’t any big character or plot changes (like there needed to be).

Then I got an agent, and my understanding of the word ‘edit’ expanded. My agent would highlight a section of 35 pages and say, ‘this has too much fat. It’s too emotional. Trim it.’ Thus I learned the ‘cutting’ part of editing.

But I have to say that I’m only just now coming into my complete understanding of the editing process. If you read Mandy Hubbard’s blog then you’ll have heard her talking about completely rewriting Prada & Prejudice multiple times, so I had a small concept of completely rewriting, but this is the first time I’ve approached it with one of my books. Recently my agent suggested that I condense my trilogy down into 1 book. Talk about editing!

Instead of jumping into it, I’ve found outlining to be really useful. An ‘outline’ in the publishing world is a document where you list each chapter and then a paragraph or two (or five, in my case), about the main action and emotional points in the chapter. This has really helped me see my novel from a high level, and I can easily trace the emotional highs and lows, and all the plot development. I would recommend this method to someone editing a novel for the first time; it really shows you how tight or loose your novel is, and if you have unevenly spaced developments.

Mostly, my advice is to not be afraid of huge changes. You can always keep the original document saved somewhere on your computer if you don’t like the end result.

Best of luck!

-The Writer Currently Performing a Complete Rewrite

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When I first started writing, I would always go back to an MS and end up rewriting it. Editing, for the longest time, was line editing in my mind; fixing grammatical errors, and maybe moving around a few words around here and there. But I’ve always loved to go back and change what I’ve written until I’m happy with it. Which, often, would mean constant rewrites. But I always thought that rewrites were just that – changing around whole paragraphs, whole scenes, even whole chapters and characters and bits of dialogue – but different from editing. I just didn’t think of that process as being a part of the editing process itself. I just figured that I was one of those people who could never be completely happy with their work, and would have to keep changing and adjusting until I felt I could do no more.

Now that I know that rewriting IS editing, I’ve noticed another problem – I like to edit while I write. This means that even before I finish my first draft, I’m attempting to polish up all the scenes I’ve already written every time I go back to “writing”. I need to tell myself to stop, and just push through finishing the first draft – I’ll have plenty of time to rewrite and revise and edit later. So my advice is, don’t edit while writing your first draft. Edit after you’ve completed writing your beast of an MS. If you start editing while writing, you might polish up scenes that later, you’ll want to change as your story morphs and changes. Even if you start off writing about one thing, you might realize as you write that it is about something completely different. So, finish writing before you edit!

– The Writer Working in the Industry

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I don’t have much to add to what everyone else has said, but in terms of knowing when your manuscript is ready to be queried/publishable…definitely get a critique partner. Not a cheerleader, a REAL critique partner. Someone who will be brutally honest with you (while still being uplifting!). Having an outside opinion really helps–they’ll pick up on problems in the manuscript that you didn’t even know were there! Even if I do a million rounds of revisions on my own, I’d never send anything to my agent without a CP reading it first.

And a general word of advice about revisions: don’t rush. I know a lot of writers are REALLY eager to query, so they rush through their revisions (often without knowing it, and even DENY it when you call them out on it). There. Is. No. Rush. To. Get. Published. The industry will not die out before your book gets a chance to be on shelves. And your age doesn’t make any difference (I know SO many young writers who think that once they hit 25, they run out of time/aren’t ‘cool’ writers anymore). No one is going to ‘steal’ your idea before you get the chance to query it. Just breathe, relax, and focus on creating the best manuscript you can produce. And maybe that means six months of revisions–or a year. But Do Not Rush Your Revisions. Please.

-The Writer With Her First Book Deal

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Tell us about YOUR editing and revising process!

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22 Responses to “QOTW: Editing and Revising”

  1. CA Marshall July 23, 2010 at 12:24 AM #

    I live by “You grow as a writer not by what you write, but what you erase.”

    • Sarah J. Maas July 23, 2010 at 1:44 AM #

      That is an AMAZING quote!!!!!!! And so true!!!!

  2. tessaquin July 23, 2010 at 7:48 AM #

    Thanks for this. I’m the type who likes to edit as I go (I’m a bit of a perfectionist), but I’ve cut out chapters and either skipped making new ones or rewritten the chapters from start after I finished the MS.

    About critique partners… I’ve been too scared to get some. I’m always afraid that they’ll steal my ideas. I know that there are forums and such to find CP’s, but could you possibly either tell me, or make a post on how you got your CP’s?

    • Kat Zhang July 23, 2010 at 9:03 PM #

      Have you checked out our CPs page? Lots of people there! 😀

      I think people find CPs in many different ways. If you’re worried about people stealing your ideas, maybe wait until you get to know someone a little better (through a forum, through chatting, or whatnot) before deciding to share with them.

  3. priscillashay July 23, 2010 at 11:13 AM #

    ! I think I’m most like Vanessa…editing as I write which is why I think it took me so long to finish (or…get to a conclusion) of my first draft. But, now editing (ACTUAL) editing and it’s driving me a bit crazy!

    • Kat Zhang July 23, 2010 at 9:07 PM #

      Lol. What part is driving you crazy?

      • priscillashay July 23, 2010 at 11:11 PM #

        all of it lol. I thought I was happy with the fourth intro I came up with ..but I don’t know if its action-y enough or should i jump in..and then do a backstory/flashback/memory

        see…crazy >_<

    • Vanessa July 26, 2010 at 11:39 AM #

      Well, I’m still working away on my manuscript! It’s such a tough habit to beat!

  4. MD Irvine July 23, 2010 at 12:27 PM #

    I tend to edit as I write usually rewriting whole chapters, cutting out characters etc. Only it tends to get confusing and by the time I do finish writing, it is really hard for me to go back and revise the whole book.I learned to type up extra ideas, plot twists, alternate POVs etc. in a separate document and when I’ve finished the manuscript I go through this “extra doc” during my revision and see if I need to use anything in it.

    • Kat Zhang July 23, 2010 at 9:04 PM #

      Sounds like a great idea! I have a doc for each story full of “cut lines and scenes,” too! Sometimes they’ll get added back in in a different context–or even a different story!

  5. Kay Tee July 23, 2010 at 5:51 PM #

    I love the editing phase, because that’s when my story really starts to come together and shine.

    I’m a big fan of the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. It really helps me find the parts of my manuscript that need work!

    • Kat Zhang July 23, 2010 at 9:05 PM #

      I kind of love editing now, too! I love how I can see each draft getting tighter and better (except for the odd mistake here and there, lol). I’ve never heard of the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. What is it?

    • Vanessa July 26, 2010 at 11:40 AM #

      I totally love editing, which is probably one of the reasons I do it while I’m writing.

  6. Ereza July 23, 2010 at 7:16 PM #

    I seem to suffer from line editing syndrome in the first draft – not so bad if I’m handwriting though 🙂

    • Kat Zhang July 23, 2010 at 9:06 PM #

      Hand writing helps turn off my inner editor, too! But it also slows down my writing speed so much, haha

  7. Schneider July 23, 2010 at 9:01 PM #

    The first piece of critique I ever received was for a fanfic I wrote back when I was twelve or so, and it went something like this: “uh, you should probably split your story into paragraphs instead of one big, y’know, chunk.”

    I kid you not. :p

    Back then, I was under the impression that “editing” equated to (extremely lazy) line editing, too: a comma here, a dash or semicolon there. Maybe switch that sentence and split that paragraph.

    So when I got my first serious CP who requested all these radical changes in pacing, characterization, description…psh, yeah I internally balked and was all like, “WTH I AM THE GREATER WRITER ALIVE YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.” But after nursing my ego for a few days, I got over it and realized how very right she was.

    (And I’ve learned since then that this is an irrational yet necessary part of editing with CPs. >.>)

    I’m just glad that nowadays I’m wise enough to cut a scene or five when I know they aren’t working. :]

    • Kat Zhang July 23, 2010 at 9:07 PM #

      Hahaha, I love your first critique 😉

      And yay for learning and getting better! That’s what this whole process (and life in general, I guess!) is about.

  8. fromawriter July 24, 2010 at 12:01 AM #

    I thought editing was something, but I wasn’t really sure of what it was. But I clearly dismissed revisions back then, hehe.
    I don’t remember my first critique though, it’s all a blur for me, I do want to remember though, yeah.

    • Vanessa July 29, 2010 at 7:10 PM #

      I can’t remember my first critique either!! 😦

  9. NLMars July 24, 2010 at 12:10 AM #

    Hey, thanks for answering my question, it’s been SUPER helpful, and I now have more insight as to what to do to my book. Thanks! 😀

    • Kat Zhang July 24, 2010 at 12:55 AM #

      You’re welcome! We’re glad to have been of help 😀

  10. Victoria Dixon July 24, 2010 at 3:17 PM #

    Glad to see I’m not the only person to do this! I’ve done a blog post on this (Chopstick Editing), but I know now to write out the whole mess first, then let it sit for a month or two. My last novel sat for 6 months with me believing it unsalvagable. Then I went back and discovered there WAS a story in there and I rewrote the entire novel, keeping only what worked from the first draft. That amounted to about four chapters out of seventy, in case you’re wondering. Then I used Cheryl Klein’s WONDERFUL guide to editing. You can find a link to that in my blog post. THEN I went back and line edited. Several times. I don’t want to imply that I had no cps because I did throughout every step. I could never have done it without them.

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