The Dreaded ‘E’ Word = Editing

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Most people feel that this is an inevitable trial.  You finish the first draft and know that it isn’t where it should be.  Why would it?  You were still discovering the story as you went even with your detailed outline.  There may be typos and continuity errors and sections that don’t work at all and others that need to be added.  It’s a garden that needs to be trimmed back and nurtured before letting the Homeowners Association get a look at it for judging.  Needless to say, it tends to be stressful.

It’s also impossible to entirely agree on how it’s done.  Just look at these questions:

  1. Do you edit right away while the idea is fresh or wait months to come at it with clearer eyes?
  2. Do you go through it once, twice, or fifty times?
  3. How many editing runs before you go to beta readers if you use them at all?
  4. Do you junk 80% of what you wrote because that’s what you read a famous author does?
  5. Print out or computer screen?
  6. From back to front or front to back?
  7. Do I need to edit anyway because people might like this raw manuscript?
  8. What should I drink when editing?
  9. Does everybody have this much trouble with this stage?
  10. Should I hire a professional?

Nearly every author has their own methods of editing and a handful scream that they have the correct way.  The truth is that they don’t because, as I say a lot, what works for one author won’t necessarily work for another.  The stories are different.  The characters are different.  The human being behind those is different.  You can’t say that you have a surefire editing method and expect it to work for everyone.  Once it fails somebody, you’re left looking silly and need to sputter out excuses or apologies.  So, my note here is to never declare yourself to be the master of editing all books.  At least if you’re an author looking at his or her own stuff.  Professional editors are in another class because this is their specialty and they can adapt to an author’s style.

One of those questions that I really want to touch on is the 80% junking idea that seems to be matched up with ‘KILL YOUR DARLINGS’.  The saying involves removing scenes that are the most self-indulgent because I guess people believe these never work.  I’m really not a fan of this mentality since it’s become fairly warped over the years.  There are those who do need to change a lot and reduce/eliminate the self-indulgent stuff to make a much better story.  They do it correctly.  Many mistake the phrase as being that you have to destroy the first draft regardless of quality and what works.  It’s this weird idea that most of what you did first is terrible and only a sliver is worth keeping.  I’ve been told by other authors that I NEED to eviscerate my works even if I’m happy with it because that’s how editing works.  That’s not even remotely true.  So, don’t think this is the best or only way to improve your writing.  In fact, I think you’re more likely to junk characters and scenes that are really good, but need tweaking if you go nuclear on your manuscript.

My personal method of editing isn’t very consistent.  I make a detailed outline that I edit a few times before writing, so this is a big reason I don’t ‘kill my darlings’.  I’d even say that my first draft is the outline.  Anyway, a lot of what I do depends on time.  If I know time is going to be rare then I edit soon after I finish, but I try to do it within 3 months of finishing because continuity is important.  I go very slow to make sure I catch typos and I jump back to earlier pieces if I have even a flicker of doubt that I messed things up.  I had it off to an alpha reader or two after this because I really only want to catch typos and make sure things make sense.  Again, I’ve already vetted all the scenes to make sure I cover the story correctly.  I personally run through a story 2-3 times before I realize I’m making changes solely to do something.  That’s when I know I’m done and I’m running the risk of causing damage.

Well, those are my thoughts and method on editing.  What do you think of this necessary challenge?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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32 Responses to The Dreaded ‘E’ Word = Editing

  1. noelleg44 says:

    On the umpteenth draft of my latest book, I discovered something new. I changed the font to something quite different from Times New Roman and discovered so many more errors! Try it!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Am currently through the editing process of my second manuscript right now. I hate it. Hate it hate it hate it. My rewriting doesn’t look any better than my first draft, and addressing one plot hole means going back and changing a huge chunk for the story.

    Maybe I should outline more like you. Become more of a plotter than a pantser. Anyway thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re welcome. I’ve always been a plotter, so I don’t know how hard it is to edit as a pantser. I do imagine that it involves more rewriting and editing runs though. How big a chunk do you usually have to change?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. L. Marie says:

    Great post and tips. 😀 I appreciate the caution against the belief that one method is right for everyone. Everyone has a process. I have drafted books and then edited after the whole book was written. But the book I’m working on now is one that I have been editing as I draft because my critique group is looking at sections and providing feedback as I go along. They are helping me spot big picture issues.

    I’m a hybrid pantser/plotter. I will outline some of the story. But the rest of it usually comes after I have written everything I’ve previously outlined. At this point, I am a pantser–just winging it. This is the toughest phase for me, believe it or not.

    I’m probably weird, but I love the editing process. 😀 A story seems to gain breath and life for me during this phase. I can relax more and enjoy the ride. I get my chisel out and chip away everything that is not the story I want to tell.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Editing as one drafts is a good idea. I’ve done that to some extent because I always go back a bit when I pick up my book again. It’s mostly to get the mojo rekindled, but there’s a bit of editing involved too.

      Personally, I think being a hybrid is the best way to go. Both schools of writing have their flaws, but those can be offset by adopting pieces of the other. Plan just enough to have a path and leave chunks of the route open for spontaneity. As long as you get to the points, which can be adjusted if needed.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Charles presents several interesting takes on editing, let him know how YOU tackle editing, in the comments under his original blog post 😎

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  5. Good post, Charles. I do my editing after the first draft is complete. I then go to a professional after the beta readers have their say.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lindsey Russell says:

    I’m dyslexic so find screen reading difficult (actually I must say here that yours is one of the few blogs I don’t struggle with so much because you use a serif font). I have the ‘grammar/spellcheck turned off while I type up what I have hand written as I find those squiggly lines distracting – but I turn it on before printing off and I print off every completed page. I’ll then read through what I’ve printed armed with a red pen to correct the typos that have slipped through because they are a correctly spelt word but not the word that should be there. With a printed copy I can go back and add stuff in red pen if a change of direction needs foreshadowing etc. At this stage I never do these alterations on screen as it messes up the page numbers for finding anything (if there is a big addition I’ll insert a hand written page). When the 1st draft is finished I put the printed pages on a copy holder, make a copy of the file and then do all the corrections/additions/deletions and print off again.
    Next edit I arm myself with red pen, highlighters, and ‘post it’ notes (the little ones 2″ x 1/2″ in various colours). I use the post its to mark off separate threads (different colour for each thread) so I can check for repetitions/contradictions and the highlighters mainly for overused words – this edit tends to be the messiest 🙂
    Then it’s on to the next edit:)

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    • Honestly, the serif font is the default for the blog theme. I didn’t even notice until you mentioned it. Going to have to keep that in mind though. Is serif easier to read?

      Sounds like a great system you have there. I used to print out my manuscripts and edit them that way. Once I got a new printer that couldn’t handle the workload, I had to stick with the screen. Might go back to that method one day. How many times do you usually edit your books?

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      • Lindsey Russell says:

        It is the combination of the ‘fat’ letters and the loops and tails that make the letters recognizable by their ‘shape’ and draws my ‘eye’ along the line. Whereas the sans-serifs have far less ‘shape’ and lack the identifying tails and loops – I can only speak for myself but sans-serif has me struggling to focus and find my ‘eye’ is shooting up and down,
        And as traditional book publishers ask for submissions in serif fonts and use a serif font in the printed product (as do newspapers) – yes it is easier to read.
        How many edits depends on how well the editing goes but never less than three and sometimes as many as six or even seven (though each edit may have several ‘passes’).

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      • Must be something to it if serif is becoming the new standard. 3-6/7 edits sounds like a good number. My first book had about 20, but I count every pass as an editing run. Made a big mess of it at one point too, so I learned to be careful. Editing doesn’t automatically improve a book.

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  7. I’m with you, but my process has evolved to something strange. Like you, my storyboards might be considered a first draft. I always go over my previous effort before I start writing for the day. I need the refresher, and catch many things. My critique group is more expert at this than I am, and they’re always about a chapter behind. What this means it that when I finish, it’s already been through a fairly good process. I still read the whole thing one more time, but it’s usually ready to go.

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    • The critique group must help out a lot. I have seen other authors use it, but during the initial writing stage. Definitely unique and seems highly advantageous.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s good for them, too. We share smaller chunks which is easier to handle, but they’re our current projects, so we can get right into them. Any debates happen at the time when we’re close to that section and not two months later.

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  8. V.M.Sang says:

    An interesting post, Charles. It’s fascinating to read about how other authors go about the editing process.
    I was also interested to read that serif fonts are easier to read for dyslexic people. I must remember to use one in my next, and subsequent posts.
    I’m just embarking on editing my current wip. I left it for a couple of monthe, but it has gone through the critiqe process with my critique group. I suppose that was the first edit. Then it went to a beta reader. Sadly, I don’t have regular ones and have to beg for some. Only one volunteered this time!
    Yesterday I ran a spell and grammar check and picked up one place where I changed the name of a character. (Oops)
    I’m now going to read through the whole thing, making no changes. I hope to be able to do this as a reader.😕
    Then I’ll go through it chapter by chapter, in separate files making any changes I feel are necessary and improving wording pace, etc. before reading through again to check for any plot holes that are left, (hopefully there won’t be any).

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    • I’ve found that spelling and grammar checks aren’t always dependable. Word loves to suggest possessives and commas were I don’t need them. Guess it’s grammar that it tries to mess instead of spelling. I really wonder about the parameters it has at times.

      With you on the beta reader issue. Since I write long series, I need someone who has followed along. Whenever I get someone who hasn’t to read it, I see that at least half of the context suggestions can’t be done. For example, suggesting I change a character name 3 books into a series because it doesn’t work for them. I think too many people believe it the 80% rewrite concept too. This results in a sense that the story needs to be trashed and that can be very problematic halfway through a series.

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  9. inkspeare says:

    I go through 3-4 rounds depending how I feel about it. On the first round, I focus on spelling, grammar, the second on how something can be said in a different way, description, and also adding or cutting anything from the story. The third round is an overall look to make sure there are no loose ends, and there is a final quick look, which I guess will count as a fourth round. I cannot edit on the PC. I have to print my work, fix the errors, then print again for the next round. Sometimes, I do one more on the screen, but quickly. I find that I cannot focus on everything at once so I have to do it that way, on my part. But the truth is that I will never be 100% satisfied, and I think most writers feel that way.

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    • Fully agree with your last statement. Perfection is impossible for an author. Best we can do is get it as close as possible. I’ve seen many authors crash, burn, and vanish because they are never happy with what they do.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. For me, it’s a balance of the draft itself and any schedule or such I may need to meet. If I’m really unhappy with the first draft, I’ll start over right away. Other times, I let it rest and work on other things at least for a month.

    On my current WIP, I still have several weeks left on the first draft. I’m aiming to publish it in November. So that gives me plenty of time to work on it. If it’s not ready by then, I have an alternative idea to combine the three existing novellas in the series in a print volume. We’ll see on that.

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    • How long does it take you to do an editing run? I’m curious because it sounds like you spend months writing and take a month break, which doesn’t sound like it gives you a lot of editing time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It depends on the length of the work. Currently I’m doing novellas between 30 and 40,000 words and a first draft will usually take me two to three months. Then I do other stuff for a month, and the revisions will take me two to three weeks. I usually do three drafts, with the final one being grammatical and linguistic. I’m trying to publish these every six months, with that final draft about a month before publication.

        My novels are usually in the 100 to 125,000 word range, and can take a year and a half for the first draft, Revisions can take a month or two per each draft. I think I mentioned in my first comment that I try to take breaks between drafts, unless I’m really unhappy with it, and then I’ll get back to it right away.

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