After careful consideration, I’m 100% sure I am an over-editing fiend.
This isn’t to say that the editing I do is bad editing, or even that it’s unnecessary. It’s just potentially a little over the top.
“All things in moderation,” one of my parents used to say.
Yeah. Kind of missed that boat, guys.
In all fairness, we all have our methods. We’ve got to do what works for us. I felt as though I’d fine-tuned my novel editing process the last time around, but I’m coming to realize that whatever the process is that I think I have nailed down, it will be sabotaged when, say, I’m in times of great stress. (Perhaps uncoincidentally, this is when my weird urge to check the oven is off at least three times before I leave the house kicks in, too. So fun.)
The last book hit some road bumps before I called the edit done, but somehow it didn’t feel quite as disruptive as what happened this time. My awesome system was all screwed up due to too many “life issues,” and of course there was that whole bout with adding a subplot, removing the subplot, changing the subplot and re-adding it again. What all this basically amounted to was me convincing myself I’d fucked everything up, then laughing hysterically because I started re-editing things I’d already edited. Three times.
At least there was laughing, right? That’s good.
So, anyway. Clearly I’m going tangential today. There will be no fiction, no confessions, no poetry, no pictures of hot men. I have decided to share the editing process that is by no means “in moderation,” but that I used with both my currently shelved comedic memoir and that first erotica novel I finished writing last January. It’s a method I think I like (because I honestly love editing), and that I’ve attempted to use again—I just stress attempted because, well, see the last full paragraph. And yes, it might well be a little nuts. Or, maybe it’s normal. Or maybe it’s indicative of a woman who spent three years of her teens wanting to be a neurosurgeon so there remains a residual urge to meticulously fix things…who knows. Either way, perhaps you will find something of use (or at least a good laugh) from my editing insanity!
Jade’s 10 Steps to Editing Mayhem
Step 1: Mull It Over. Do not touch your first draft for at least three weeks after you type “The End.” Then, and only then, print it out. Read it cover to cover (best in a short, consistent time frame) with all pens and pencils locked somewhere you cannot find them. Once you finish, mull for 2-4 days. Make mental notes of any plot issues that strike you as seriously fucked up, but do not write anything down. Not yet. This is thinking time.
Step 2: Grab the Pen of Destruction. After you’ve sufficiently mulled it over, find your favorite pen (I’m a big fan of blue or green—red makes me crazy). Then, in batches of three or so chapters, edit like a maniac. At the end of the third chapter, enter the changes on the computer. When you finish, go back and read these chapters on the screen, making changes as you see them. Then repeat your chapter bunches to the end of the book.
Step 3: Throw It All Off. Bear in mind, you will need to stop to add scenes where appropriate. This will of course throw off the “[three] chapter bundle” plan, so after typing a new scene, edit it on screen, print and edit it on paper, enter the changes, then continue on with the rest of the chapter bundle.
Step 4: Assess Your Mental Health (Take 1). Recognize this has taken a bizarrely long time already, and that, according to writer friends, this is where many people stop and send the damn thing off to beta readers. Laugh a good laugh and keep going, special snowflake. It’s time to let that freak flag fly.
Step 5: Begin Your Word List Madness. When I read, I’m hypersensitive to echoes—repeated words and phrases—so when I’m on Step 2 I keep a notepad handy, jotting down every word or phrase I swear I’ve repeated too many times. This list can get disturbingly long, and it will turn out that some of the words are not actually echoes but phantom echoes. That’s okay, though; write them down anyway, because you’ll take great pleasure in finding out you’re wrong when you do a “find and replace” for each and every word on this notepad. When you find a true culprit, though, set some random upper limit in your head for the number of times you think it should appear. Proceed to slash and hack to fit that number. This process, while tedious, will allow you whole phrase changes that will make the book read better—you probably didn’t need to say cock that much, even though the word rolls around so well on the tongue. (Heh.) Also check excessive adverbs and your Naughty Words List (the list of words that you tend to overdo).
Step 6 (Optional): Create Post-It Confetti. When feeling particularly Word List sensitive (this happened for me last time), write down the really bothersome word on a Post-It, and make note of what pages it happens. Then make another Post-It with synonyms and their page numbers. Sometimes, you can find an eerie pattern that makes you feel your use of certain words is logically connected to the Universe—but don’t spend too long pondering this. Your next goal is to disperse your abundance of synonyms so that the first half of the book doesn’t have all the cock and the second half get the shaft. (Ha ha. Who said editing isn’t fun?!)
Step 7: Assess Your Mental Health (Take 2). Realize you have synonym lists on Post-Its all over your desk and that this alone may be far more concerning than your browser history. Laugh another good laugh. Is it a math brain that makes one so obsessed with patterns? The OCD? Will you ever know the true answer? Does this have something to do with the meaning of life? Why do you care? This is not the time for an existential musing. Whatever the cause for this madness, regain your focus and set some rewards: a night out when you’re finished and a damn good book to read. I promised myself Alison Tyler’s Wrapped Around Your Finger when this current edit was finished, and while it’s been sitting on my nightstand for almost six months, I am going to get to it soon, goddammit!
Step 8: Sigh and Run Your Spellcheck. Breathe a sigh of relief. The hard work is over. Now, give the whole document a spellcheck. Take this opportunity to spot and change more boring words. You’ll find them. I promise.
Step 9 (Best for post-beta read, but whatever): Go Aural. Read the entire story aloud. No, really. This is the best piece of editing advice I ever got, and I still do it, every time, no matter what the length of the story is. It catches almost every error, swear.
Step 10: Get Your Ass and That Book Out. Send the doc to your beta readers before you find ways to make another pass through. Then, take yourself out to celebrate.
BOOM. You’re done. Easy as pie. Yes?
So, a few notes: First drafts get better as you write more (thank god), so this list, while arduous, goes faster and gets simpler with each new story. The next edit (post-beta or otherwise) won’t require several of these steps, either—so far I’ve stuck with a single read-through, then 2, 3, 8 (sans sighs), 9, and 10 on that round, with 2 and 3 switched. Also, 10 is even more celebratory because it’s more done, which is always a good thing. And once this bad doggie is out the door, you can now move on to all the other projects you’ve avoided save for a random piece of flash or ten.
Until, of course, you get your edits back from your betas/editor/agent again.