How do You Edit?

I am in the middle of furiously editing my novel manuscript, so editing is on my brain lately. As many writers will attest (me included!) editing is not always fun. I wouldn’t say it’s the bane of my existence exactly, but there are some days it comes pretty close.

As I have struggled through editing these past several weeks, I’ve been wondering how everyone does it. There seem to be a million different ways to edit, and that’s because, of course, there are a million different writers out there! Some writers have rough rough drafts, some writers have clean rough drafts. Some love getting into the nitty gritty of syntax, sentence structure, and grammar right away, whereas others put it off until the last minute or hire out someone else to take on line edits. There’s so much variation in how we, as writers, edit out stories, and so I’m curious: how do you edit?

Don’t worry, I’m not asking the question without planning to reciprocate and explain my own process so far. Here’s how I edit:

Read Everything

Much of my time so far has been taken up simply by re-reading all the words I wrote. It’s more time consuming than you would think, especially with a full-length novel draft. I’ve been going word by word (yes, all 70,000 something of them) and sentence by sentence, noticing where I let myself get too long winded (I’ve learned that my wordiness is my downfall) or where I didn’t make clear who I was writing about. Only after I work on making my prose less jumbly can I dive into the details of characterization and plot–at least, that’s how editing goes for me.

Identify Potholes

Here in Colorado, we have a lot of potholes. A lot of potholes. When you’re driving down the street, humming along to your favorite song and keeping an eye on traffic, sometimes it’s easy to miss the crater in the middle of your lane. And when you hit that crater, causing the steering wheel to jerk beyond your control momentarily, you send a little prayer up to heaven that your tire didn’t just spring a leak (at least, that’s what I do!)

When you’re writing your first draft, you’re often in a similar state of mind–typing happily away when you hit a good writing streak, paying attention to which words to use and the right punctuation for dialogue. Inevitably, you’re going to miss the potholes in your story. I know I did! As I’ve been going back through and reading everything, I’ve noticed the small spots in the story where I need to fill in some gaps, and I’ve also noticed the gaping holes in the road of my story where I changed someone’s name half way through or forgot a character was supposed to be dead less than a year, not more than three. You’re mind can get distracted when writing that first draft, so go back through and fill in those potholes so your future reader has a much smoother ride.

Figure Out What’s Lacking

I decided to use a new web-based software for my editing, Fictionary, this go around, and it’s helped me identify some parts of my writing that were lacking. The way the program is set up allows for you to note different sensory details, objects, and character motivations in every scene and chapter. While it’s not always the most intuitive in picking these things out (it is computer-based software, after all) I’ve found some of the questions it asks as I weed through each scene to be very helpful. I’ve learned that I don’t mention scent very often in my descriptions, something that I am aiming to focus on as I edit. On the flip side, I often use touch to describe things, which is something Fictionary doesn’t pick out as a particular thing to note. Either way, I’ve found it helpful to think through scenes in terms of what is and isn’t there. It’s helped me appreciate the things I am good at in drafting each scene, and strengthen my writing by picking out what’s missing again and again.

Now It’s Your Turn

Now that you’ve heard a little bit about my editing process so far, I want to hear from you! What are you currently editing? What’s the process been like for you so far as you make your way through this tedious process? And finally, what tips do you have to share? Although editing is still not my favorite thing in the world to do on a nice evening after work, I’m learning the value of it even more with a full-length manuscript, and I’m eager to hear your take.

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