At any given time, I have two or three writing projects going these days. I’m currently writing two separate novels and editing another. There are long stretches when I will gravitate towards one or another, but mostly, its so I can edit in chunks. Without my works in progress, I would only be editing and let’s face it, I enjoy writing because of the creation, not the alteration. Thanks to my writing group, I’ve developed better editing habits that have helped make the process go a lot smoother. Without them, I’d be knee deep in edits all the time, and I’d forget the fun that is writing.
Tip #1: Distance
I’ve written my novel and minutes later turned to the first page to start editing. I tend to like barreling through the difficult step, and I found most often I left major plot issues untouched. When my beta readers would read my manuscript I’d hear a lot of, “I know what you meant to say here, but…” With the images so vivid in my head, it’s hard to see what is missing. I’ve also taken the approach of stepping away for a week, a month, in several cases years. When I come back, I’m approaching my novel as a reader, not a writer. I get to enjoy the characters again and even be surprised. It also allows me many moments to say, “WTF is happening here?” The red flag goes off, and I know that’s a place that needs serious attention. This happened recently as I couldn’t figure out how a character vanished from a conversation and never returned (upon investigation I had decided to change his name midway through the novel and forgot to make a note.) It’s different for each novel, but that breathing space allows me the chance to become a reader and see what future purchasers will see.
Tip #2: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
I have made the huge mistake of starting my editing by doing line edits (editing each sentence for spelling and grammar) right out of the gate. I can not emphasize how badly this should be avoided. In one of my first novels, I spent countless hours line editing. When I finally gave it to a friend for a trial read, it came back with a lot of comments and questions. I wound up reworking several chapters, fixed a major plot hole and changed a character dynamic. All that line editing I had done earlier? I had to do it again. I had treated the novel like an English Essay and forgotten that 80,000 words only needs one subtle change in plot to change huge chunks of the book. I also found myself resistant to change since I had already invested the time editing. The changes were made, and after another trial read, I went through and did another line edit. Now changes were small, and I wouldn’t have to start from scratch. A lot of wasted hours taught me that the first edit should focus on plot, character, pacing, and major mechanics of the story. I do some grammar along the way, but only at points where it is difficult to understand my point.
Tip #3: Include Human Contact
I used to think we were our biggest critics. This doesn’t seem to be the case with many writers. Instead, it seems that some writers create, develop, edit and produce their work in a vacuum. This is dangerous. As I’m reading more self published work and more independent writers’ works, I find that if they had a friend along the way to say, “Whoa, slow down, what the hell is going on there?” It has become more and more beneficial to me to have somebody read the book during the first wave of editing. These beta readers are important because they are looking at it with fresh eyes. I select my beta readers based on what I’m writing (and usually who can generate thoughtful responses to my questions.) They are the first people to say, “Uhm, this character is acting weird here?” Or even, “Why didn’t your characters simply call for help?” They help expose plot holes and can provide overall suggestions. A “this part dragged,” or “this scene felt rushed,” can be the difference between a well thought out novel and a toss aside. Make sure to include people in your work. My best moments have been when I’ve posed a question to my writing group and listened to their feedback.
Tip #4: Get Help Where you Lack
Nobody expects you to be a jack of all trades. You might have difficulty in one area of writing. Mine is my grammar. I never learned it in school, and since then I’ve been coasting. A friend pointed out that my grammar surrounding the dialogue wasn’t correct. After some research and inspection, she was indeed correct. I found a book that talked about fiction dialogue and did some studying on how to do it properly. It helped. I am now better for it. I also have discovered and utilized sites like Grammarly and Autocrit, which are great tools to add to my arsenal. If you need help in the description or discussing your characters, I’ve asked fellow artists to do sketches for me. Most recently I had a friend do some clothing designs for a set of futuristic characters that helped me get a grip on what I wanted them to look like. You don’t need to be the best, but you need to know how to improve yourself.
Tip #5: Deadlines & Goals
Okay, I know people groan on this one. I write so many words a day, and I attempt to edit so much a day. I decided for a while to just let it happen. In other words, I found myself procrastinating for as long as possible. The moment I pose a deadline (sometimes even unrealistic ones) I begin to plug away at my work. I don’t always make my deadlines, but I’ve made significant progress towards them. At any given time, I have a word goal when writing, sometimes daily, sometimes for the month. For editing, I set page or chapter goals and always try to complete it during my sitting. Without them, I find procrastination takes over, and I never make any headway on my writing.
There are plenty more tips to have I’m sure. I’d love to hear them. Right now this is what gets me through the pains of editing. Good luck and don’t forget the love of writing. Editing might not be your cup of tea, but think of how much better your writing will be once you get the mechanics of your story working. I think of it as a personal victory, and then I can go back to my first love, writing.