Necessary Evils of Editing


“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” – Stephen King, On Writing


So Have I mentioned I love writing? I do.

Did I mention I hate editing? I do. But then, many writers do.  So to combat my toe-curling, stomach-curdling dislike of reshuffling words, I have created a system, kind of. It’s a work-in-progress, like I am. However, as #nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) is over and there’s lots of editing going on, I decided to share my editing steps. If they help, please steal freely. Do you have a great idea? Please share it with me.

The Big Stuff:

  1. Give the manuscript breathing room. Stephen King recommends six weeks to three months. I try to give it at least three weeks, so I have the space to read it objectively. I tried immediate editing, but I don’t have the distance to see it objectively.
  2. Cut the crap. Add the good stuff. I know it’s a contradiction, but I do both in the first read. And to do it the best, I use Jamie Gold’s beat sheets to make sure the pacing in on track. These wonderful spreadsheets give you a word count target for each part of your plot arc.
  3. Focus on my weak points. Everyone has them. For me it’s setting, deep point of view, and repetitive word choice.
  4. Critique is my final big step. I cannot recommend them enough. RWA, Romcritgroup, Critique Circle, and so many more are out there. Choose one, and use them to help you see what you are missing. Again Stephen King, gives me my motivation here. He gives two pieces of advice: First if multiple people identify an issue, then it’s an issue. Fix it. Second, the way they say to fix it is probably wrong.

The Small Stuff:

  1. Search is my best friend. I have identified a list of weak words like look, seems, thought, appeared, and the list goes on. See a complete list of words to watch out for here. I also search for –ing and –ly words and anything else I identify in my first read.
  2. The printed copy. Yes, I still print a copy and read it aloud. Others use text to voice, but eventually your ears become more powerful than your eyes. My red pen, highlighters and a quiet space work through it chapter by chapter. Here I highlight any weak words, mark passive verbs, and all my other in-depth line edits.
  3. The final changes. I go through and polish, polish and polish the manuscript.

From there, it’s ready for my beta readers. These are different from my critique partners, who are most often other writers. I try to find beta readers who read what I write, so they are looking at it with a reader’s eye.

This is my process, and it stinks – not because it isn’t effective, but because editing stinks. However, until my genius creates perfect first drafts (read never), I will continue editing because I must produce the best manuscript I can. And hopefully, one day soon, I will produce the best novel I can – one that readers love.