Katherine Hinkson, a writer friend, and I both agree editing is probably the worst tribulation about writing a manuscript. Certainly, it is the most tedious and frustrating. One of the reasons is because we are constantly finding mistakes, even after the third, fifteenth, and fiftieth read through. Then, when the publisher’s editor(s) get a hold of it, they’re finding even more. Plus, they’re coming back and mentioning not just the fundamental errors (grammar, spelling, punctuation), they’re noticing continuity and time mistakes among others. For instance, they’ll catch the misspelled word ‘fiend’ when you really meant ‘friend’. They’ll also notice you left the door open in a certain scene, yet your hero, upon leaving the room, opens the door and steps out.
My last book went through several editing phases and then, when I thought everything was kosher, the publisher came back with highlights on all the ‘were’, ‘was’, and ‘that’ words. I couldn’t believe how many I’d used, especially in what she called ‘clusters.’
I think the best way for you to recognize mistakes and problems in your own writing is to edit others’. During my short stint as an editor for Echelon Press, I edited several manuscripts and finding errors in those helped me find errors in my stories, even while I was currently writing them.
Another interesting method to learning editing is to take a random book, and start writing it. Open to page one, grab a pen and paper and start writing from the first word in the first chapter. By doing this, you’ll see what the author is doing, how he/she is using words and phrases, grammar, and punctuation.
My second book, “Beta”, didn’t have as many problems, but only because I’ve been editing and rewriting it for nearly ten years. For those of you struggling with editing, I say, “Good for you.” Everyone should. However, we’re all in this together, so I’m not going to sit back and laugh and poke fun. Instead, I’d like to offer a few tips on how I edit. I’m not saying this is the correct way. It’s MY method and until I find a better one, (or someone offers me tips like I’m doing for you), I’ll stick with it.
For Beta, I wrote the first draft longhand. I used up a couple of pens and several legal pads. Today, I write a few stories’ first drafts on the laptop. I prefer longhand, though, because it is my first chance at editing. I can think faster than I can write. So ideas and descriptions and dialogue will form and stack up waiting their turn to be put down. Other scenes may intrude or details may come to mind for me to include elsewhere. Conversely, when using the laptop, I can type faster than I can think, so sometimes, I lose some of the ‘fine tuning’.
After a chapter or two, I’ll then type what I’ve written onto the computer. This is the next chance to edit. I’ll fix the fundamentals, and I may substitute words and sentences for others that sound better. Again, while typing, other ideas may present themselves, other scenes to include.
After I’ve typed in the entire manuscript, I’ll celebrate what I’ve accomplished. Then it’s back to the pen and pad for an initial read through, catching typos and jotting down questions for research or areas of concern. I’ll spend a period of time with corrections, then another read through. Somewhere in this process, even before completing the manuscript, I’m reading chapters or scenes to members of a critique group. I’ll jot down their concerns and suggestions, then when I’m correcting the read through, I’ll insert those as I see fit.
I’ve been trying to follow a course laid out by Todd Stone in his book “The Novelist Boot Camp”. He suggests looking at specific aspects of the story for each read through. Action, Dialogue, Sentence Structure, Setting, and others. I think this is a good guideline to follow. By focusing on specific areas you’re not as overwhelmed by trying to catch EVERYTHING on each round.
Even when I’d edited “Beta” many times, the critique group still had suggestions. I needed to tone down the brusqueness of my main character. Plus, they didn’t like the names for two of my male characters. After reviewing this, I agreed. So Jamie became Darren and Lauren was renamed Lawrence. I like them better.
Find your editing method. Get frustrated, but realize that with each correction, you are improving not only your story, but your writing as well.