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?
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!
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!
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!
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.
Tell us about YOUR editing and revising process!