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Saturday, December 26, 2020

My Editing Process

My latest work, a space opera scifi entitled "The First Nova I See Tonight," had gone through my editing process to the point that I've handed it off to my editor, Donovan Reves at Bloomsday Editing and Proofreading. About 77K words worth of space pirates, cyborgs, and alien lovers! But even after he's done, there's more to do until publishing.

So what is that editing process? Let me tell you....

Some editing notes from my latest scifi novel

First, a caveat: every writer has their own process that they follow. Mine is very thorough and works for me, but if you are a writer and want your own method, shop around a bit and see what works for you. 

1) Editing as I go: Some writers out there espouse the idea that you should just write straight through without any editing until you reach the end. Don't judge your work. Let it flow. In fact, some writers and writing instructors insist this is the best way to write. Great idea for some, but disastrous for me. If I do that, I wind up with massive developmental issues. I also find that the process of editing so many typos, sentence structure, and plot holes for the entire length becomes overwhelming and demoralizing. It's better for me to edit as I go, at the chapter level. It stretches out the period of time it takes to do the writing, but it's so worth it to me to wind up with a finished draft that is easier to edit.

2) Chapter edits: After I write each chapter, I read back through the digital copy to find errors. I then print it out and do it again. This is an important point: I've found that editing on the computer uses some different part of my brain than editing on paper; I always find new issues I'd missed.

3) Writing group critiques: Once I get a significant way through the book, I have an excellent writers group, The Village Peeps of Corvallis, who then critiques the book, one or two chapters at a time. They always find changes I need to make, including simple things or typos that I should have caught, or more important developmental or character issues. I read through those comments, and will implement some of the changes, but for the most part I set the critiques aside until I've finished the full novel. (To learn more about writing groups, I have a PRIOR POST on the value of a writer's group and the rules we follow). 

4) First Revision: Once I finished the first draft (and celebrated with some treat for myself. Yay!), I then take all those writing group critiques and go through, chapter by chapter, deciding what needs changed based on them. Most of these are "surface changes" such as typos, sentence structure, repeated phrases, etc. But if they or I find plot holes or sections that need re-written, I hold off. The finished version is what I call the "first revision."

5) Second Revision: Next, I go back through the digital document again and look at developmental editing. This time I focus on the larger issues: plot holes, sections that need re-written, character development. Whole chapters might be re-ordered or re-written in this revision. Paragraphs changed. Additional details added. In extreme cases, I have even changed a sub-plot or changed a paragraph to be from the point of view of a different character. Then, again, I print it out and go over it in pen. The resulting edited version is what I call the "second revision."

6) Off to the editor and beta readers: This is where I am with my latest scifi novel. I send the second revision to my freelance editor, who will use his own style of editing to find changes that need made. I also send it off to beta readers (who read it like a purchaser would but only are expected to give general critiques of chapters and the book as a whole. They are unpaid, but the book should be fairly polished by this point). 

5) Final version? Once I get the critiques back from the editor and beta readers, then I go into what should hopefully be the final round of editing. Provided they don't find any giant issues (like entire plot points that aren't working for them), then I once again go through and implement changes in the digital format. Since most of the line editing and proofreading has been taken care of before the second revision was done, most of the critiques are larger developmental issues. So I might have to go in and re-examine these and maybe do a bit of re-writing. I then go through it again by, yes, printing it out and having a physical copy to edit. I might need to have another round with my editor if large changes were made. Barring any glaring issues, I should, at this point, have a final version ready for ARC readers and publication (if I'm self-publishing) or submission to agents and publishers (for the traditional publishing route). Yay! Time to celebrate again!

Some final thoughts:

  • As my writing mentor, the late Anne Warren Smith, once taught me: "Don't fall in love with your words." Or, as others have put it, "Don't be afraid to kill your darlings." Have a critical eye and cut ruthlessly if needed. (For instance, you have a beautiful description of the sunset and your character's thoughts, with a way of writing it that would surely win awards, but if it breaks up the action too much, maybe this isn't the best place in the book for that. Cut it or move it.)
  • Whatever your editing style is, it has to fit YOU, the writer. Lots of experienced readers and writers will dole out advice, but always remember: your book is yours, not theirs. Only you know what you want to express and how to express it for the audience that you want to read it. That means you can feel free to ignore any and all advice. But a professional will, at least, seriously consider any critique that comes their way and be thankful for it. 
  • Be humble. Even though I just told you it is your work and your voice, you can't know it all. Accept criticisms with an open mind. Even if you disagree with what is said, say "thank you" and don't argue. Give it some time to sink in before you discard or accept the advice. 
  • Save all versions, both digitally and printed (and back up your files!). You never know when some earlier thought might have actually been the best choice. Or maybe that section you cut out could be used in another work or sequel.

Some additional resources:

Cheers and happy reading (and editing)! 

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