With Camp NaNoWriMo having just ended, a lot of people are starting to discuss next steps with their novels – which means the subject of editing is once again prominent in the minds of many writers.
Whether you love editing or hate it, most writers agree it’s just as huge a part of the writer’s life as drafting. If you’re fortunate, a round or two of edits, some rewrites with CP feedback, and then last tweaks with beta notes will be all you need.
However, most writers find this is simply not the case.
Back in summer 2018, and again in early 2019, I went deep in the “editing zone.” I’ve since edited all three of my big series to some extent, and along the way I learned that, simply put, different books will need different amounts of editing. This is just how the process goes. But in working through each of them over the past year, there have been six principle principles for successful editing that were universally true for each series. And I want to share them with all of you!
One: Be ready to do the hard work. This is one I’ve unfortunately learned the hard way. There are different layers to editing – sometimes you may start with a cosmetic speed-run, for example. But eventually you will most likely have to tackle the glaring flaws or segments you just don’t like, and it is going to be so difficult. So difficult. Don’t let that discourage you. Sometimes stories are a lump of coal and you need that pressure to make a diamond. Approach your story prepared to get your hands dirty, and remember that the effort you put into it, while grueling, will be worth it in the end.
Two: Hype yourself up. Think about the parts of the story that you love, the bits you can’t wait to get back to. Write a list of them, if you have to. Then use those as a reward. Whenever you want to give up, remind yourself that you can’t because you need to get to such-and-such a scene. Make the story its own reward and you may be surprised just how much more motivated you become!
Three: Go prepared. Like writing, there is no one “right way” to edit. However, different methods work for different people and can help you make the most of the process. There are lots of resources to help you edit profitably (and I’ve linked a couple below!) but the biggest thing is to have some kind of plan in place for how you will edit so that you don’t become overwhelmed. Whether it’s to tackle tough scenes first, then do a read-through of the edited material, or to do a fast read and then outline the problem areas, or if you want to break down the entire story in an Excel-sheet and have a visual editorial map – whatever works for you, prep yourself as much as you can. Having a game plan can help you drag yourself up when the editing gets tough.
Four: Don’t edit in solitude. The reason I say this is because as hard as drafting is, I have found my tendency to want to give up practically triples when I’m editing. Tackling the flaws in an established story somehow seems bigger than finessing them while I’m still drafting. One of the biggest combatants to the desire to give up in the editing process is to have friends, especially fellow writers, with whom you can share both victory and hardship. Showing off your favorite lines and receiving feedback on your worst ones can give you a solid boost so you aren’t just taking your own word for it in the editing process.
Five: Seek out a CP. Having a Critique Partner is HUGELY helpful. Whereas beta readers often read for content – they’re like a test group for how audiences will receive your story – CPs help on a much more technical level. Some of the best changes I’ve ever made to my books have been at my CP’s suggestions because, unlike many beta readers—who are just that, readers—a CP should also be a writer. This means they understand the craft and probably have some strengths in it that you don’t. Additionally, being partners means you’ll generally be swapping manuscripts and thus creating better trust and communication skills. All of this will help you to help each other more and will make their feedback even more valuable.
The Big Number Six: Edit At Your Own Pace
As I mentioned above, there’s no one right way to edit. Some people edit at breakneck speed, and that’s what works for them. Others need to take weeks, months, even a year or more to edit. That’s okay, too. The biggest key to setting yourself up for success with editing is to find the method that works for you, that allows you to bring your work to the level of polish and refinement that you’re pleased with and feel is marketable.