You Can Write but You Can’t Edit

I hate editing.

And I fully admit I’ve done it the wrong way before. Most indie authors have. My first book was not professionally edited. Years ago I would have sympathized with the poor struggling writer who just wants to get his book out there — not anymore!  Today, my advice is that if you don’t invest in anything else, invest in hiring an editor.

Most of us out there are writers – not editors – so we just won’t catch every mistake that a professional editor will. And those of us who are good enough to catch every mistake, hey, I know how you can make some good money at this.  Before I digress…

Today I’m going to tell you how I edit.

My first edit happens as I’m writing.  I may write a chapter one night, and then go back and read it the next night and make changes.  I call this my “soft” edit as I’m really only working on spelling and continuity. I know I won’t catch everything.  But that 24 hour break in between chapters does help.  Most of the time I end up adding more to what I’ve written, really trying to flush out the scene or build upon a character.

When I’ve finished the book, I like to step away from it for at least one week. That gives my brain time to rest from it.  But I don’t wait too long. Then, I print the manuscript and read it start to finish.  I correct in obvious errors I find…misspellings, sentence structure, wrong use of words, anything that glares at me.  I really mark the manuscript up. I might even make changes in the plot or ax complete chapters and characters all together.  This edit is pretty intense and is the worst!

When I’m done, I make all these changes in the electronic file.  As I make changes, I’m reading each chapter again trying to catch anything I might have missed in the print version.  And yep, I usually still find mistakes.

So by now, I’ve done at least three edits. Two “soft” plus the intense one.  My brain hurts and I’m just about sick of this book by now. What’s next?  I’m ready to send it to my editor. I prefer to use Edit for Indies. Their work is professional and affordable. They took just over two months to edit my latest work, Dickinstein, but it was worth the wait.

When I get the file back from my editor, I read through it and make any changes they suggest.  They also fix misspellings and grammatical errors they find, so reading through their work and making these changes is very important.  It can also be very time consuming if you haven’t done your own edits first!

After I finish updating the manuscript based on the editor’s work, I print it again. For Dickinstein, I immediately handed it to a friend to read. I didn’t ask her to do any editing.  I told her to only read for continuity. When she was done and we discussed what she thought, I waited a few weeks, letting me and the manuscript rest some more.  A month had passed since I’d last touched the manuscript myself.  At this point, I’m ready to begin what will hopefully be my own final edit of the book.

I start by only reading one chapter a night.  If it’s a long chapter, I might split it up and only do ten pages a night. Believe it or not, I still find an occasional wrong word or maybe a misspelling.  That’s okay.  Even traditionally published books have them.  I circle anything I might need to check later for continuity. But this time I really focus on the “flow” of the novel. I might reread a paragraph over and over.  I might read it out loud or ask my partner for his opinion of what sounds better. Here are a few samples:

Here’s the sentence as it appears in the book:

It was as fresh as the smell of the aftershave her brother and father shared, but different, a new aroma her nose registered and her brain memorized.

Here’s how I edited it:

It was as fresh as the smell of the aftershave her brother and father used shared, but different, a new aroma her nose registered and her brain memorized.

And here is the final version:

It was as fresh as the smell of the aftershave her father used, but different, a new aroma her nose registered and her brain memorized.

Now, you are probably going to say who cares, right?  It wasn’t that big of a change. I eliminated the brother from this sentence for several reasons.  First, it just flows better because there are less words there.  But, more importantly, a brother and a father sharing shaving cream makes it sound like the brother still lives in the home.  In the case of my book, he doesn’t.  He lives next door.  Just a small detail, yes, but I’m sure some reader out there would have caught this. The final version fits the story better, and if you read it out loud it flows better too.

Here’s another:

There had been no deaths or cheerless news that they could think of, so they were unsure what could be causing her to be so detached.

Here is how I changed it:

There had been no deaths or cheerless news that they could think of, so they were unsure what could be causing her to be so detached.

And here’s the final version:

There had been no deaths or cheerless news, so they were unsure what could be causing her to be so detached.

It’s pretty obvious that I eliminated unneeded words, right?  Writers also hate the words like, that, as… and it’s not really good to end phrases with of either. But again, just read the first version and the final version out loud and you’ll see which just feels better.

So that’s it.  That’s how I edit. It’s important to note that I finished the first draft of this book at the end of August last year.  Yep, it’s been over six months. And the book isn’t even going to be published until October this year, so I’m sure there will be more editing once I turn it back over to the publisher.

It’s important to have patience.

If you are getting tired of the process, don’t be afraid to just step away from the book.  In fact, as I said before, I highly recommend taking a break from it. It helps you clear your mind and come back to it with a fresh set of eyes. But don’t be afraid to get help.  In fact, GET HELP!  You won’t regret it.

Because you can write, but you can’t always edit.

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5 comments

  1. Great post, Shannon. We have similar editing styles, which is why I’m such a slow writer. I’m constantly re-reading and re-writing. Looking forward to the new book!

  2. Truly great points Shannon. I have to add one step, and that is to let my husband edit what I think is my “final draft.” Then after I make changes that he suggests, I send it to my editor.

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