I might have mentioned before that Letters to Leonardo took about thirty drafts before I felt I had it right. Although as someone pointed out to me recently, there is no ‘right’ in writing. It’s just a case of getting your work to a stage where it conveys what you want it to in the best way possible.
I know I’ve talked about editing before but in the last few weeks I have discovered I’d been going about it the wrong way.
I have realised that editing involves getting inside your novel just as much as writing it and it’s probably even harder because instead of carrying all these wonderful ideas around in your head, you have committed them to print or computer. How do you step back and distance yourself from your own work?
Recently I discovered that the way I was editing wasn’t working for me and that I was missing a lot of the subtle things in the rewrites – not the grammar, the spelling or the character names and details. I was missing some of the nitty gritty, like the places where my character’s voice lapsed or became too old for him/her – where the language being used was out dated or just not believable for that character.
I wasn’t picking up the bits where my sub plots had faded into almost oblivion. I was surprised at things I was picking up in other people’s writing but not my own.
What I realised is that for me, editing on screen doesn’t work. It’s helpful for picking up typos and spelling, but it doesn’t allow me to immerse myself in my story again. It doesn’t allow me to truly enter the world of my story .
HERE’S HOW SOME AUTHORS EDIT
- Directly onto their computer (doesn’t work for me)
- By printing out their manuscript and reading it as if it were a book written by someone else. (This is my method)
- By handwriting their manuscript out again. (I’d get one book written every 100 years if I tried this)
- By typing their manuscript out again from memory (My memory isn’t good enough although I sometimes do this with a scene if I think it needs more depth. This helps me to think logically about what’s happening in the scene as if it were a real event. From that I can sometimes work out what’s going to happen next.)
- Print the entire manuscript out.
- Read it through as if it were written by someone else (with a pen handy so that I can mark bits – lots of them).
- In my first edit I look for plot and character inconsistencies – logic problems
- In my next edit I look for typos and places where the language could work harder.
- Next I take a break, set the manuscript aside and spend a bit more time with my characters in my head.
- In my next draft I look at voice. Does my character do the things and sound the way I want them to? Is their voice authentic? Are they someone the reader will relate to or even like?
- EXTRA TIP ON VOICE – if you’re having trouble with voice, find a book that you think has a strong, authentic voice and see if you can work out how the author achieved it. I’m not saying copy that voice (you won’t be able to anyway because character and author voice are linked) but think about why it resonates and stays with you. I discovered this recently when I picked up Girl Saves Boy by teen author, Steph Bowe and suddenly I knew exactly how my MC should sound. Renaming my character can also completely change their voice and behaviour. My MC (main character) in my current Work In Progress was called Tara. Just by turning her into Sarah, she has become a softer, more likeable person.
- Are the story events in the right sequence? Are there turning points that advance the plot and the main character?
- Next I look at line by line, scene by scene and chapter by chapter. If I can’t summarise a chapter in a paragraph then there’s probably too much waffle in it. (More about this in next week’s blog post).10. Do I still like my story? If I do, then I send it to writer friends to be critiqued, or give it to my kids if the age group is relevant. They are very honest and helpful.
- Next I take a deep breath and examine all feedback constructively.
- I put the manuscript aside again for a month or so and go through the entire process again.
So I guess what I’m really saying here is that even when you think your manuscript is ready to send out, chances are that it’s not. Submitting is a great thing to do, but don’t be impatient and send your work out as soon as the first draft is done. You might only get one chance to impress a publisher or agent.
I’d love to hear how you edit. Feel free to share your experiences and tips in the comments section of this post.
Next week’s post – Editing Bit by Bit. We’ll be looking at getting to the heart of your book and editing line by line, scene by scene and chapter by chapter.