I recently finished a major revision of a novel I’ve been working on since 2015. You read that right. I’ve spent almost three years with this novel, in which I’ve gone to hell and back. And trust me when I say that is not an exaggeration. I used several editing strategies with this novel that I’ve never used before and I’m convinced it has made me a better writer and editor. After 10 years of writing and working on multiple manuscripts here is my best editing advice:
Revise the manuscript backwards. Meaning, if you have thirty chapters in your book start editing Chapter 30 first, then Chapter 29, and on down. I don’t know why I’d never tried this before, but it is my new favorite technique. You see things going backwards that you don’t see when editing in a linear fashion.
Color code the thing if need be. Again, this is something I’d never tried before. My writing mentor said there wasn’t enough body language in my book. So what did I do? I printed the thing out and highlighted all the body language in orange. If there was no orange on a page or the color didn’t appear for several pages I looked at where I could add body language in. This was painful–VERY painful–but man did it work!
Map out chapters in Excel. Chapter length wasn’t something I took a serious look at before. I tracked the length of chapters in Excel as well as charted characters’ feelings to make sure they were changing. If there were too many or too few pages between chapters I looked at where an alternate break could be made.
What about you? What unique editing techniques have you tried? Share in the comments.
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P.S. I also wanted to share that I have an agent 🙂 I’ll write a longer blog post about how I did it, but I’m happy to say I’m now represented by Penny Moore of Aevitas Creative Management.
Every writer has a different editing process, but over the years I’ve figured out what mine looks like and wanted to share it with you in case it helps you with your writing. There’s more than one way to edit a novel, but this is what works for me.
After I complete a first draft these are the steps I take to get it to what I consider a finished state:
- I do an initial read-through. In this stage I read everything on the computer and fix any glaring issues: grammatical errors, plot holes, add/delete scenes. Etc
- I add details/description. I have a tendency to underwrite on the first draft – leave out what someone looks like, what the setting looks like, etc. On this draft I add those details in.
- I print out the book and read it again. The whole time I am in these stages I am also developmental editing. Are there enough obstacles for the character? Are they changing enough? Is the pacing ok? Some writers do this as a separate edit but it’s always in the back on my mind as I’m editing.
- I edit for show vs. tell. Using this checklist usually catches all the culprits.
- I do another edit for the first and last sentences of each chapter. Those should be as compelling as possible and make the reader want to read more.
- Assuming I am satisfied at this point I show parts or all of the book to at least three beta readers or critique partners.
- I make edits if people are commenting on the same issue and/or I agree with their suggestions.
- I print the book out and read it to my dog. Usually there are errors that crop up when hearing the book out loud.
- I change the font of the manuscript, print it out, and read it again.
- I show the book to three different test readers than before.
- I make edits as I see fit based on their comments.
- I read the book on my Kindle. I feel like this is the only real way to mimic a reader’s experience. If anything jumps out at me I fix it in the manuscript.
As you can see, if you can’t find something to love on the fifth, tenth or twelfth read of your novel, perhaps you should move on to another project. Also, keep in mind all of this happens before the book goes to a professional editor.
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There are several reasons I stop reading a novel I’ve picked up and not one of them has to do with being short on time. Stopping to reflect on these reasons can help us avoid these pitfalls in our own writing. The main reasons I stop reading books:
1. Unrelatable characters. The characters’ lives are just too far off from my own and I also find no redeeming qualities in them. I don’t hate them but I don’t like them either. They are too perfect which is unrealistic, or have no motivation.
2. Characters who change too much. Characters who make decisions that seem out of character are also a turnoff. If a character has acted one way for the first half of a book but then suddenly changes in a way that is completely unexpected I’m not inclined to read anymore.
3. Story moves too slow/drags. If there isn’t any action, some hook, to get me within the first few pages I’m out. Oftentimes I will give novels the benefit of the doubt and give them at least 30-40 pages, but if the action isn’t there and I don’t care what happens next I will definitely move on to the next book in my To Read list.
4. Plot is unbelievable in a bad way. I’m talking about novels where too many crazy things happen. A shooting, terminal illness, apocalyptic events. I read somewhere that readers can handle one fantastical event per novel. I think this is true.
5. Bad and/or lazy writing. Some writing, even published writing, is just bad. Repetitiveness is my biggest pet peeve. There’s a certain bestselling novel that uses the word “beguile” upwords of fifty times. Readers pay good money to read your work which means you should do your very best.
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