Editing the book! Phase 1: self-edits

I’m one to celebrate milestones when it comes to writing a novel, even if it’s something as insignificant as a finished draft two. I often tweet my excitement, but I’m sure people wonder how I edit, what I edit, or what I’m even doing between drafts. This lovely little post is an attempt to explain the long editing process, which usually starts with self edits. These are the edits I make without showing the full manuscript to anyone and it’s usually the first phase most writers go through while editing. Strap in kids, it’s quite a ride!

Round 1: Putting it on the computer


The handwritten first draft.

Now, every writer, and in fact, every novel, undergoes a different writing and editing process. I am kind of a weirdo in that my first draft EVER of this story I wrote in about two weeks, over Christmas, long hand in a notebook (see above). I let it sit there for a few months, too, churning over the plot and characters in my mind. After my workshop, I transferred my handwritten draft onto the computer. It was my first process in editing. I cut out scenes that didn’t work, I expanded certain passages, and when I finished I had about a 60,000 word manuscript (most mainstream novels are between 70-100,000 words). It was in this phase that I attempted to re-plan the novel, but I ditched that in an effort to pants it (as previously complained about on this blog!). That worked out much better. The draft was still missing a chunk of the narrative though, hence the low word count.

Round 2: A taste of critiquing and finishing the damn thing

Around this time I got lucky that my critique group was meeting. We agreed upon bringing the first 10 pages of our draft. Here I got some great feedback about what was working and what stood out. I was then able to go back to the draft and finish it. No more huge plot holes! There are three narrators to the story, and so now each character has a beginning, middle, and end. They go on a journey, all that good character development stuff I’ll save for another post. Now that draft two is finished, I let it sit for a week or so (which is challenging) and then I move on to the third round.  At this point, the manuscript is at about 73k words, the shorter end of a novel.

Round 3: Lists and edits

After I take some time away from the draft (which results in me being a little stir-crazy so I apologize, friends), I then do one huge edit. This edit includes lots of things. I meticulously go through the manuscript, scene by scene. I fix little things like typos and then, using the handy comment feature in Pages, I make comments to go back to. These can be anything from ‘this metaphor sucks, fix it’ to ‘did you introduce this plot point before?’. I also delete stuff that’s awkward, not working, or that I simply don’t like.

Here you can see the comments I make within the document and the notes that I add to as I go.

Here you can see the comments I make within the document and the notes that I add to as I go.

While I’m going through the draft, I use the handy Notes app on my Mac to make lists of things. These range from things I want to include when I go through it again to loose ends I need to tie up. For example, I realized in a read through that I never describe a main character’s apartment where a good chunk of the action takes place. This is silly! Writer fail! So, I made a note to include it. I have to write things down or I will forget them.

I also make a list of questions I need answered. These are pretty simple things. One of my characters is a nurse, so I need to ask my nurse friend Brett some questions over a beer or two. A third of the book takes place in Chicago, and since I am not physically there this resulted in me emailing my friend Danny questions about public transportation and bars, which he so kindly answered, and I will include these in round 4.

Round 4: The last big edit, getting it ready for other eyes

Round 4 consists of adding in the big changes, the information I’ve gathered, and getting the manuscript fit for the eyes of others. This means making sure the formatting is consistent, that things like text messages and emails look different than the regular text, etc. The formatting and line edits (re:fixing typos) are a drag for me, but knowing that other people are going to read it is good motivation. I am not perfect, and my manuscript won’t be either, but at least it will be fit for critiquing. I start this process on Monday. The word count will probably remain the same, at least for this phase, though I could see it coming in at about 75,000 words.

And that’s it! Well, for now…it’s far from finished

Once this is done, I take my first big scary leap and send the manuscript off to my writer’s group where they will surely demolish the thing. And that’s okay. I’ll also take a break from my manuscript and won’t come back to it until our group meets and we go over it. Then Phase 2 begins. That’s where I implement their changes, freak out, hate my draft (which happens during Phase 1 as well), but I buck up and make the changes both big and small.

There will be a Phase 3, but I have to be a little vague on that because it all depends on other things that happen after Phase 2. I can’t predict the future, sadly, but I’m excited to see where it goes.

So that’s how I edit! Any tips, fellow writers? Questions? Leave them in comments, yo.


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