Oh man, I’ve been so bad about updating this blog, I’m sorrryyyyyy
I was reading 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love last week. (I also wrote a review of it on Goodreads!) It was a pretty standard book until I read the section on editing.
And then something just… clicked.
You see, when Rachel Aaron edits her books she does very few readthroughs–that is, she doesn’t start editing by reading on page #1 and going through to the end. She does one hardcore read-and-edit of the entire book, and she only does it late in the edit, after she’s finished all her big changes.
I’ll get to what she does and why in a moment. But this blew my mind for some reason. She avoids reading the whole story front-to-back because reading the entire story again and again and again made her hate her stories.
And that sounded familiar.
Could Editing Too Much Be a Problem?
I edit by reading the whole story from the beginning to the end. I do it many, many, many times.
The thing is, I like editing. I love editing! It’s my favorite part of writing a novel! So whenever people start talking about how editing is bad or stressful or deeply uncomfortable, I get a little defensive. Editing is awesome. You can’t change my mind on that.
That also means I did at least 6 passes on the book I last queried. That’s what it needed, so that’s what I did. I just kept reading and fixing and reading and fixing until it was ready to go.
Did I do a fine job editing? I’d like to think so. Did I hate that thing at the end? I wanted to toss it into a fire.
But the thing is, I’m not exactly a confident person. I always find reasons to dislike my writing. So “hey, I’ve read this story so much I hate everything about it” is not a strange and unfamiliar state for me. Hating a story I read too many times felt natural and unavoidable.
It never–and I do mean never–occurred to me that reading my drafts too many times might make me hate them more.
The Alternative: More Targeted Edits, Fewer Readthroughs
You can buy 2K to 10K if you want to read the whole process in detail. (The book is 99 cents and 70 pages long. It’s not a huge investment.) But here’s what she does:
- She goes through the story real quick and creates a “scene map.” You go through the novel, tally each chapter, and write a bullet for each thing that happens in each scene and chapter. It’s kind of like making a reverse outline–except now, instead of planning each scene, you’re writing down what you actually wrote.
- You make a to-do list of all the big edits that you need to do.
- You use the scene map to find which chapters include the issues you need to fix.
- Go directly to those chapters–and just them–and fix them.
- Gradually check everything off your list.
- Once everything is done on your list you THEN do a readthrough of the entire story on the sentence-and-paragraph level. At this point you’ll have a lot of cleanup to do–you’ll have references to things you just edited out, or buildup to stuff that doesn’t happen anymore–but that’s just editing. The big stuff is done. Now you just make the rest of it work.
The important thing is that you AREN’T just making a to-do list and trying to fix the entire story in a single readthrough.
That’s pretty stressful, for one thing. And difficult. If you have a dozen tasks to tweak and several chapters to rewrite, just reading the whole darn story one–or two or three–times to get everything right can be exhausting.
So you don’t. You do targeted fixes. You get the big stuff out of the way. You only worry about polishing paragraphs and making things pretty once you’re sure that you don’t have any huge, glaring mistakes to fix anymore. And–just to make all this more appealing–apparently this is faster, too.
So I’m going to try it out!
I’ve got a really messy MG fantasy. It’s rough. Really rough. It’s so rough I was desperately putting off editing it at all because, despite how much I generally like editing, it felt like a huge amount of work to fix.
So, hey! Let’s see if this works! Let’s see if it’s faster, easier, or just all-around less stressful to fix targeted chapters first and edit everything second. Of course, worded like that, it sounds like it should be easier, huh? But goodness knows that these things don’t always work out like you want them to. Maybe my brain just won’t work in a non-linear fashion. Maybe this’ll be inefficient. Maybe. Who knows.
In any case, I’m going to try it out, give it a fair shot, and report back once I’m done. We’ll see how it goes!