The Old-School Edit

EDIT: In one of those odd coincidences the folks over at The Everyday Author (I did an interview there not long ago) posted a blog on editing (with actual advice) at the same time I was blathering on about my own process: Polish like a boss: tips for revising a manuscript.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program…

I wish I was one of those mythical writers who spewed out first drafts so good they didn’t require the gentle massaging love of the Bloody Red Pen of Editing and Evisceration. But I’m not. Nope, my first drafts are fucking awful. They’re chock full of typos, grammatical and tense errors, long and shitty sentences, gaping plot holes even an Imperial Stormtrooper could hit, and unfinished story lines.

My first drafts are stank.

I have learned—the hard way—that editing is absolutely critical. And not just one pass of editing. Many, many passes. I’m not even sure how many, as I do different kinds of passes.

For gits and shiggles, I’m going to break them down. None of what follows is advice. This is just the way I do things, and I have no fucking idea what I’m talking about.

The No-Brainers

The first few editing passes require very little brain. I can listen to music and have a few drinks while I’m doing them. They are seek and destroy missions. I use the search function of my word-processor (LibreOffice these days) to find and murder the words I either over-use, or which weaken my writing.

Off the top of my head here are a few of the more common ones: That, was, just, still, could.

Sometimes, as with the word ‘just,’ it’s simply a case of just deleting it.

Sometimes, as with ‘could,’ it needs to be replaced: She could see it was about to rain might become, She saw it was about to rain. Or even, It was going to rain.

The First Read(s)

For these passes I read the entire book from top to bottom, correcting typos and fixing particularly egregious sentences. If any plot holes (etc.) leap out I’ll leave myself a note (making use of the Comments tool) as what needs to be done. I’ll also highlight any paragraphs or chapters in need of a complete rewrite. I’ll do this at least three times, on each pass leaving more notes and comments and always finding more shitty sentences in need of evisceration. These edits are done in complete silence, no music and no booze. All three of my functioning neurons are put to work.

Actually Fixing Things

Once I’ve reached the point where I can’t find any more crappy sentences, I go through the book addressing all the notes and comments I’ve left myself. I can’t really count the number of ‘passes’ this requires as it’s an all-over-the-place process. Any new writing or rewriting will likely be completed while listening to skull-crunching death metal. Any actual editing will be done in silence.

To the Test Readers!

At this point I send the manuscript off to my test readers, telling them it’s my first draft. Bawah! I am an evil genius. While they’re slogging through it I get to work on another book. If you’re working to a schedule, guess at how long you think your readers will take and then multiply it by six! These folks have their own lives and I don’t pay them. They’ll get to my book whenever they get to it. Hassling your test readers is the true mark of an arsehole.

I find it takes about three months to hear back from all my readers. Luckily, assuming the world-building and background work is  already finished, that’s also about how long it takes me to finish a first draft.

The Big Fix

When I get the book back from my test readers there’s always more work to do. Some of it will be minor repairs like clarifying a scene. Some of it will be much bigger. Sometimes they want a whole pile of new chapters expanding the story on what I thought were background characters. If one of four test-readers says this I will think about ignoring them. If two or more are asking for the same thing, I listen.

I’m Almost Finished! (not)

At this point I try to convince myself the book is ready to send off to my agent for her thoughts. It ain’t. I do two more passes of editing looking for crap sentences and always find some. As with other editing passes, this is done in complete silence. When these passes are completed I desperately want to send her the manuscript; I want this damned book out of my hands. I want to stop thinking about it. But no. It’s time for the…

Old-School Edit

Brampton-20150813-00529I’m lucky in that all my friends have real jobs and even luckier one of them works for a large company that either doesn’t care (or doesn’t notice) that he occasionally prints 500+ page documents. Once I have the stack of printed pages I attack them with the Bloody Red Pen of Editing and Evisceration. Think back to what you’re read here. How many passes of editing have I done at this point? And on this pass, the printed paper and red pen pass, I often find more than I found in the last several passes combined. There is something different about reading paper while holding a pen that focusses my brain. Sentences that looked fine on the computer stand out as utter shit on paper.

And after all the above, when a real editor finally gets hold of the manuscript, it still comes back with edits, suggestions, corrections, and requests for rewrites.

So…what’s your editing system?

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrShare on Google+Share on FacebookBuffer this page
  • Derek Alan Siddoway

    Hey Michael!

    This is great editing advice. It’s kind of ironic because I wrote a post for Everyday Author on basically this same subject last night and posted it this morning! I just saw a link to yours and decided to check it out.

    I’ll make sure to add a mention of this in mine, since the universe apparently conspired for us to discuss this at the same time! Thanks for your insights.

  • tambojones

    I generally start with a read off a printed draft, but otherwise my process is much the same. I find more on paper than I do on screen, so I tend to edit via paper drafts only.

  • Michael R. Fletcher

    Hmm…I should try that next time. I wonder if starting with a printed copy might save me some time later on.

  • Michael R. Fletcher

    Just edited this post with a quick update to include a link. There’s some great advice there.

    “Don’t be lazy,” being one all writers should heed.

  • Derek Alan Siddoway

    Thanks for the mention! I think we wrote a pretty good 1-2 punch on the subject.

  • Derek Alan Siddoway

    I love revising with a printed draft…up until I get to the point where I have to plug all the edits back into the manuscript on my computer. *grimaces*