The 51 Steps to Editing

15 Dec
by Kat Zhang
Having critiqued a number of manuscripts and received critiques in return, I think I’ve gotten the Critique Email Response down to a science. Here, in exactly 51 steps, is how the average writer* reacts. 

*in this case study, “the average writer” is a compilation of exactly 1 writer. Me.

1. Send out manuscript
2. Wait
3. Wait some more
4. Get very friendly with your inbox
5. Have mini heart attacks every time you see “Inbox (1)” (man, that right there just ramped up my heartbeat a few bpm…and I typed it myself)
6. Convince yourself that nobody loves you
7. Realize how dumb that is
8. Bug other writing friends until *they* tell you how dumb that is
9. Wait some more
10. Receive notes
11. Cheer!
12. Actually open notes
13. Read
14. Read again
15. OMG
16. How did I not think of that??/That’s the coolest idea EVER/WHAT, how did that not come across??/Eeeeek/That DEFINITELY needs to go in the story. Likerightnow
17. Brainsplode
18. Recovery mode
19. Read notes a couple more times, taking notes on the notes
20. Organize notes on notes under a select few headlines, like “Improve characterization for character A” and “Give more hints that Agent Kazoooski is a mole from outer space”
21. Cut “mole from outer space” subplot entirely
22. …add it back in
23. Brainstorm in trusty moleskine, telling yourself that there are no stupid ideas
24. Prove yourself wrong
25. Very wrong
26. Coffee/chocolate/carbs/other forms of comfort
27. Read through manuscript, despairing of ever changing anything without screwing up what’s already there
28. Read through notes again
29. Read through notes on notes
30. Save manuscript under a new document name (Manuscript_version97833283)
31. Take a deep breath and—
32. Ooh, lookie who’s on skype!
33. Spend the next three hours talking about anything and everything but the editing you should be doing.
34. Distract thyself from the task at hand
35. Repeat
36. Repeat
37. Repeat
38. Break something small and insignificant
39. Open manuscript doc again.
40. Have a staring contest with your own words
41. Damn.
42. They beat you.
43. Delete a couple out of spite. Hey, that felt kinda good.
44. Delete some more.
45. Hmm, might need something to replace those words…
46. Type a little something. That’s not half bad, right? Try a little more.
47. Freak out and stop.
48. Fiddle with what you already have on the page until it feels right. With regained confidence, revise deeper.
49. Emerge from editing cave 36 hours later realizing you have a test the next day and you can’t even remember what chapter you were supposed to study…or which subject.
50. Ah well.
51. At least you got some editing done!

What does YOUR list look like?

Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.


18 Responses to “The 51 Steps to Editing”

  1. Julie Eshbaugh December 15, 2010 at 12:57 AM #

    Kat, you are a genius. Only you could take the horrible hell of editing and make it so funny I laugh out loud. You rock. BRILLIANT! 🙂

    • Kat Zhang December 15, 2010 at 1:10 AM #

      ❤ Thankee 😀

  2. priscillashay December 15, 2010 at 2:03 AM #

    lol, my list is similar..only..I have play Tetris on my phone, doodle, chocolate on my list o.O

    So, “21. Cut “mole from outer space” subplot entirely” and
    “22. …add it back in” remind me of something Junot Diaz said when I met him a few months ago. I don’t know if any of you have read his “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” but there’s a mongoose in there that no one can make sense of. We asked him about it and he said when he took it out the story just didn’t make sense.

    I don’t know how much of this answer is true because the whole time he was being coy with us and not giving actually ANSWERS..but yeah..

    • Kat Zhang December 15, 2010 at 11:58 AM #

      Ah, doodling… that should definitely be up there :]

      I’ve never read THE BRIEF AND WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO, though I’ve been told it’s fabulous, so I really ought to get on that. Sigh. Come winter break, I’m just going to move into the bookstore… That’s cool that you met the author 🙂

      • priscillashay December 15, 2010 at 9:23 PM #

        hey! that was my plan too!! I’m moving into BN for a month and it works out because there’s a Starbucks IN the store so it’s not like I’m going to freeze or anything.

        Yeah, he came as part of my college’s English Dept.’s attempt to bring more culture and what not to the students. I’m part of out Lit Mag and the Eng. Honors Program so they let us meet him separately ..which sounds kinda stalkerish now…but it’s not! We got a bunch of pictures of him too

  3. Sammy Bina December 15, 2010 at 2:43 AM #

    1. Procrastinate
    2. Repeat

    • Kat Zhang December 15, 2010 at 12:00 PM #

      Sometimes simplicity is best 😛

  4. authorguy December 15, 2010 at 7:06 AM #

    1. Receive edits.
    2. Scroll through MS.
    3. Evaluate next suggestion, or reach end of file, go to step 6.
    4. Delete word/delete edit.
    5. Go to step 2
    6. Save file.
    7. Send to editor an hour after you started.

    What can I say, most of my edits are trivial, usually passive constructions and wordiness. I did one that was a three-day stint of suffering and pain, didn’t like it. So far I’ve had three editors find something that needed to be changed in the text itself. I blogged about it as ‘National Editor Appreciation Day’, right after NaNoWriMo finished.

    Marc Vun Kannon

    • Kat Zhang December 15, 2010 at 12:01 PM #

      Oh, I wish the majority of my edits were line edits. But mine tend to be rather big things…thus the massive amounts of stressing and procrastination that occur beforehand 🙂

  5. M. Howalt December 15, 2010 at 10:50 AM #

    Wonderful! I’m about to edit the first draft of my novel soon, and I can definitely see where this list is coming from. Thank you – it made me smile. 😀

    • Kat Zhang December 15, 2010 at 12:01 PM #

      Glad you liked it! :]

  6. Carolin December 15, 2010 at 12:20 PM #

    Oh yes, I absolutely go through these stages.

    I’m in edits. I’m currently in the increasingly long phase of severe procrastination. After going through the ‘OMG. What if I’ll DAMAGE THE BOOK FOREVAAAAAAAAH?!’ phase.

    I hope the acceptance and getting my butt in the chair phase will come soon. *g*

    • Kat Zhang December 15, 2010 at 2:47 PM #

      The ‘OMG. What if I’ll DAMAGE THE BOOK FOREVAAAAAAAAH?!’ phase is killer. It really is. I try to remind myself that the old versions of the book are safe in my hard drive, and I can always go back…

      • Carolin December 15, 2010 at 5:20 PM #

        That is a good idea. Thanks! I’m going to psychologically bully myself into believing that I can always go back a step. Haha.

  7. Taryn December 15, 2010 at 2:38 PM #

    So this is the first time I’ve ever done serious edits . . . and I’m finding that list entirely too apt. Except I’m trying to get something done while I wait on my CPs/betas. It’s not really working.

    • Kat Zhang December 15, 2010 at 2:47 PM #

      Ooh, yeah. The waiting is hard. I try to always have a WIP going 🙂

  8. Patricia Beaudin December 16, 2010 at 1:50 PM #

    LMAO! I love that! I’d add breakdown in a crying fit over how you’ll never get it right and should just give up. Then Take a nap and then Feel better and go back at it.

    • Kat Zhang December 16, 2010 at 7:30 PM #

      Hahaha, a nap is always a good thing to consider 😛

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