Thursday, 24 January 2019

Editing Away

For the last 11 days, I have been in intense edit mode as I work on the manuscript for Eyes On Me.  I’ve been so focused that I haven’t come up with my usual three or four ideas for the weekly blog topic.  So I’ve decided to take advantage of my monomania and lay out my editing process.

Process... Torture... either applies

First of all, a big head’s up: I don’t believe it is possible to entirely self-edit a book.  Even though an author knows their own story better than anyone else, that very knowledge makes it hard to see what has actually been said versus what the author intended to say.  My process relies on outside people reading my work (beta readers and developmental editors), usually at least five different perspectives.  And I ask those initial readers to rip the story apart because that is the only way I can make it better.

Once I have my beta readers and developmental edit feedback, then it’s time to plunge into the manuscript.

For me, the most important part of the process is to break the manuscript down into small parts so that I don’t get caught up in reading rather than editing.  So I edit chapter by chapter, and within each chapter, one paragraph at a time.  It’s a slow process but it’s the only way I don’t miss things.

I start with making sure I’ve covered my basics within the chapter.  Are my characters and settings introduced with clear descriptions?  Is the action within the chapter clear, moving from point A to B to C without being confusing?  Do characters or props suddenly appear without warning? 

I read through the paragraph and try to condense it as much as possible.  Have I used redundant words (raised his head up, or looked down at her shoes)?  Is the information I’ve given necessary (backstory, description, etc.)?  Can I tighten the action and raise tension by trimming beats out of the manuscript (if two people each make part of a reveal, does it work better if one person makes the entire reveal)?

Then I copy the paragraph to a new document, my “scratch manuscript”.  I do this because most editors need Track Changes activated in order to see what has been changed.  It’s a valuable tool but I find that I have trouble reading text with Track Changes activated.  Transferring it lets me catch any left out or left over words as well as small formatting errors such as extra/missing spaces, periods or commas.  However, it is critical that I ensure that I’m making any corrections to the manuscript and not the scratch document.  I’ve used a number of tricks to visually cue myself, such as using a different color of text or background.

Once I’ve gone through the entire chapter paragraph by paragraph, it’s time for the “search and destroy” phase.  That’s where I search for overused words and phrases, as well as words that tend to indicate passive voice (such as was or had), superficial sensory description (look or hear), or temporal notes (day, point, moment).  To avoid getting overwhelmed by “Find” results, I do the search in my scratch document and then make the changes in my manuscript.

My last step is to make detailed notes about each chapter.  That way if I have to go back and make further edits (adding something in for foreshadowing or removing a subplot), I have a clear guide.

My process is time-intensive but I think it produces a high quality result.  I’m always looking to improve my process and make it more efficient without reducing the overall quality.  But I also have to respect what works best for me.  We all have different mental blindspots and highways.  The key to a good writing process is one that lets you take advantage of the parts that work well and protects you from the parts that don’t.

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