Editing


Cover of Thanks for the Feedback

Image from Goodreads

If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you’ve probably noticed that I looooove to break things down: “writing” isn’t just “writing,” it’s a collection of skills ranging from grammar to description to character building. You can’t just ask for an “edit,” because there are levels of edit.

So it’s no surprise that I love thinking about how there are multiple kinds of feedback.

I’ve been reading Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well because I wanted tips on giving feedback. And, er… that’s… not actually the focus of the book. But I still love this book.

You see, Thanks for the Feedback slots feedback into three buckets: appreciation, coaching, and evaluation. And that got me thinking about how those apply to the writing world, where feedback often takes the form of a beta reading.

So let’s talk about the book’s three kinds of appreciation and how those look in betas!

Feedback Type #1: Appreciation

Thanks for the Feedback makes it clear that “feedback” doesn’t mean “stuff meant to help you get better.” It just means a response, of any sort, to what you’re doing. And sometimes you don’t want a deep, analytical analysis. You just want to be noticed.

That’s feedback type #1: appreciation. When someone’s looking for appreciation, they want acknowledgement, recognition, and encouragement.

I’ve actually gotten beta reading requests from people who only–or mostly–wanted appreciation. And that’s… dangerous. Not because there’s anything wrong with it, but because that’s not what all feedback-givers think to do.

For example, when someone asks me for a critique, I hear “give me a thorough explanation of what didn’t work, why, and how to fix it!” I mean, sure, I’ll mention things I like. I’ll throw in a compliment sandwich. It’s just not the focus. We’re here to find things to work on, right?

But if I default to that, and my beta reader’s hoping for appreciation, we’re going to have a capital-B Bad Time. Because I’m giving the next type of feedback: coaching.

Feedback Type #2: Coaching

“Coaching” is feedback that tells you how to improve at something. This is what people think of when they think of “constructive criticism.” When someone is coaching, they point out the things that need work and suggest improvements.

Sounds straightforward enough, right? There’s just one hitch: there’s a third kind of feedback.

Feedback Type #3: Evaluation

Evaluation is the third and most jarring form of feedback. Evaluation ranks someone: it’s giving them a grade, a yes or no, or a pass or fail. Unsurprisingly, this is also the most threatening type of feedback. No duh, right? It’s heavy stuff!

And while true evaluation is the realm of agents and publishers (the people who say “Yes, I want to read your full manuscript” or “I’m sorry, this isn’t for me”), a typical beta can still include evaluative feedback. For example:

  • When someone’s grammar is wrong. Grammar and spelling are either right or wrong. I may not be a bestseller, but I can still tell you that.
  • When you’re reading about something you have deep knowledge about. If you repair cars for a living, you’re qualified to provide right-or-wrong feedback on a book where car repair plays a major role.
  • When someone’s not following the unspoken rules of their genre. There are some things you are strongly encouraged not to do, like starting chapter #1 with a dream or a paragraph of description about a boring, uneventful day.

When I see these, I have a strong, knee-jerk urge to reply with “Don’t do this!” No suggestions, no corrections, just no. Wrong.

This type of feedback often feels very black-and-white: you’re right, the author is wrong, and they should fix it. But at that point, you’re not giving coaching, you’re providing evaluation. And because evaluation is the touchiest form of feedback, you’re more likely to get an emotional response from the author, whether it’s “I’m so embarrassed! I’ll work on that” or “Screw the rules! I can do whatever I want to!”

The ideal beta includes a mix of feedback types.

The most valuable betas combine all three kinds of feedback:

  • Appreciation helps tell people what they did right. This is the positive stuff, the stuff you liked and enjoyed.
  • Coaching helps you point out the things that you think could be improved.
  • Evaluation should be used sparingly and tactfully.

The best beta includes a hearty dose of both appreciation and coaching. That’s straightforward, right?

Evaluation is the tricky one. It feels like coaching when you find something that doesn’t need discussion–it’s just wrong, and it needs to be fixed. And while this can be valuable information, remember: you’re not just giving coaching. You’re passing right-or-wrong judgement. And that’s feedback you need to treat with extra care.

The Solution: Be excessively explicit about what you want.

The trickiest part of a beta is that we all want different betas. Some people want 90% appreciation with just a dash of the gentlest coaching. Some people want the most brutal read you can give them.

The solution’s obvious: talk more.

What type of beta reading do you want? What ratio of appreciation-to-coaching do you need? Tell your beta. Be extremely detailed about what you want them to focus on, what you don’t want them to focus on, what you care about, what you don’t care about.

And if you’re reading, get as much information from the author as you can. Try to gauge where they’re coming from. Does the author seem confident and resilient? Or do they seem anxious, scared, and discouraged? Do they look like they can handle big, heavy evaluations? All this can help you figure out what kinds of feedback you should focus on.

That’s always the answer for everything, isn’t it? Communicate more! If only it was as easy in practice, huh?

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about how there are a lot of different kinds of edits and how you can edit a novel more easily by fixing different parts of your story at different times. If that sounds interesting, go check it out! This post’ll be here when you get back.

I was intending on jumping right in with a post about structural editing. But after a couple of drafts, I realized that I needed to start a little farther back. On day #1 of Mission: Edit this Awful First Draft, you’re not going to start by rewriting chapters 6-9, right?

Of course not. Your first step is to figure out what your problems are. Let’s start there.

Step #1: Read your entire novel and take excessive amounts of notes.

First thing’s first: read your entire novel.

But here’s the key: you’re not reading it like a reader. Your job isn’t to passively sit there, letting the word-thoughts beam happy feelings into your brain. You have to read your novel like an English major charged with dissecting it to death. You’re going to challenge every assumption. Think deeply about everything that happens.

You’re going to look at every single scene and ask: why?

  • What just happened?
  • Why did it it happen?
  • Does that objectively make sense, based on the facts of this world and the characters involved?
  • Have you previously explained the character/plot/worldbuilidng elements that the reader would require to understand this scene?
  • What new information does the reader learn from this scene?

These are simple questions, but they can open a lot of doors: why would this character [do the dramatic thing that makes for a good story] if you haven’t given them a strong enough motivation to do that instead of an equally viable, less-crazy choice? It’s awfully exciting to open your story up with an explosion, but will the reader understand it if why it matters hinges on understanding a lot of details about this world and the characters?

Don’t let yourself get away with lame answers. “Because it’s dramatic!” is not a good answer. “Because I like it!” is even worse. Remember: there’s nothing sacred about the creative process. Just because your first instinct was to write a fight scene or six chapters of chatty banter doesn’t mean that’s the one-and-only way to convey the information you need.

So ask why. Why did this happen? Is this the only way to do this scene? The most interesting way? Why is this scene important?

While you do this, take notes. I keep a separate file, create a new section for every scene, and then write down every thought I have. If I encounter a problem, I bold it. If something feels really important, I highlight the text or flag it in a different color.

Other Techniques to Try: Story Mapping

If you’re new to editing, you might want to take this opportunity to dig very, very deep into the structure of your story. Thankfully, there are a million ways to map a story!

Usually, this process entails identifying all of your main story arcs, including your character arcs, main plot arc, and subplot arcs. This lets you look at specific story arcs, by themselves, and ensure they aren’t abandoned for long stretches of time and that they grow and build over time.

Some of the story mapping techniques I’ve seen include:

There are a million ways to do this. See what works for you!

Step #2: Identify your problems.

Now it’s time to organize your notes.

My notes are always long and wordy. I write sentences and sentences about how such-and-such sounds weird, and maybe I should try this, and maybe I should be doing something more like this other thing…

These are great, but they’re not actionable. You can’t do anything with a paragraph-long rant about how your motivations are garbage.

So first, take each problem and distill it to its core:

  • [Character’s] motivation doesn’t make sense for this scene.
  • This plot twist wasn’t foreshadowed.
  • This doesn’t make sense. This character doesn’t know [fact], so they can’t act on it.

You will probably find that some issues go on for chapters and chapters and chapters. That’s good! Identify what scenes are affected.

Step #3: Turn those problems into a to-do list.

Now turn those problems into assignments for yourself.

  • Fix [character’s] motivations. (Chapters 4-8)
  • [Plot Twist] occurs in chapter 8. Foreshadow it before then. (Chapters 1-7)
  • Have character learn [fact] before chapter 5. (Chapters 1-4).

These are things you can do. Some of them are specific–“this character needs their motivation fixed in every scene where they appear between chapters 4-8” is a specific fix in a specific set of chapters. “Foreshadow this thing sometime before it happens” is not.

But that’s OK. You don’t need to know all of the solutions right now. In fact, during the first major editing phase (what I’m calling the “structural edit”) you may end up deleting entire chapters and rewriting entire sections. So some of these issues may end up resolved by the time you’re done rewriting. And if they don’t? Well, you can figure out which specific chapters to insert your specific fixes into once you know you’re not going to delete or rewrite them.

Step #4: Pull out the to-dos that require you to delete or completely rewrite content.

My to-do list is naturally organized by scene: it lists every scene in the book and what things I want to fix. But before I do those, I want to pull out two very special things:

  • Problems that require me to delete or completely rewrite scenes from scratch
  • Problems that need to be fixed, but I’m not sure where those fixes should happen

These are the two things we have to resolve in the structural editing phase. We can’t go on to step #2 (the scene-by-scene edit) until they’re done.

And now you’re done with this phase!

Hurray! You have now:

  • Read your entire story with a critical eye
  • Mapped out your story to track what happened when
  • Created a note file that lists the problems with each scene
  • Developed a to-do list to fix every problem
  • Pulled out the to-dos that require you to delete or completely rewrite scenes.

Now you’re ready to edit.

What comes next?

The first two editing phases are the biggest ones: the structural edit and the scene-by-scene edit. During them, you’re going to fix every single problem on your to-do list. Here’s what you can look forward to:

  1. First, we’re going to do the structural edit, which will include the big changes: deleting, rewriting, and other things that result in 100% new, never-seen-before text.
  2. Then we’ll see if we have any “floating” problems left–problems that we know we need to resolve, we just don’t know where. If they weren’t fixed in the structural edit, we’ll decide what specific chapter they should happen in.
  3. Then, using our to-do list, we’ll go through every scene in the story and fix all the issues we found.

Next week, we’re finally going to get to the first big lift: the structural editing phase. See you then!

 

Writing a novel feels great, doesn’t it? It’s so emotional! So engaging! (All right, well, it can be, when you don’t feel like you’re yanking ideas out of your brain with a pair of pliers.) But when you’re in the zone, everything you write feels powerful, important, and deep.

Then you edit it. And whoops! It’s… not. It’s clumsily worded, it doesn’t make much sense, and that scene you loved to absolute death feels shoehorned in. So you feel angry and maybe a little embarrassed, because it all felt so good at the time.

To nobody’s surprise, many writers hate editing.

But not me. I friggin’ LOVE editing. This is probably–just a guess here–why it’s also my day job.

So I thought I’d do a few posts about how I edit my novels and why, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t need to be a soul-crushing process.

First thing’s first: there are a lot of different types of edits.

I’m going to start with an observation about something a little different. Have you ever noticed that people who don’t write often think that writing is a single, monolithic skill? They figure that you are either “good at writing” or “bad at writing.” If you ask them what “writing” is, they’d probably think that it’s just the act of having an idea and writing it down. There are no other talents involved. Just have ideas. Be literate.

But when you write your first novels, you learn otherwise. “Writing a novel” involves dozens of completely separate skills. Writing dialogue, pacing logically, creating micro-tension, and developing realistic characters are all completely different talents. Some of them will come naturally. Some of them are really hard!

Editing is exactly the same.

There is no one, monolithic thing called “editing.” You cannot hand your piece to an editor, tell them to “edit it,” then walk off knowing you have explained everything about what you need them to do. There are many kinds of edits that do many different things. And some of these will be easier for you than others.

Editing will feel overwhelming if you think editing means “I’m going to sit down in front of a document and magically know whether every word, sentence, scene, and chapter is perfect.” Thankfully, you don’t have to.

It’s easiest to edit in phases, from the largest level of edit to the smallest.

In the editing world, there’s a thing called “levels of edit.” When you hand your work to an editor, they often want to know what level to edit it at, and that tells them what to look at and what to ignore. This isn’t standardized, so every organization has a different number of levels of edit, and those levels are called different things. So I’m not speaking out of authority here, OK? These are the levels of edits I think about when I’m doing my own novels. They’re not even the same ones I use at work.

But when I’m editing my novels, I come at them from several different angles:

  • Structural Edits: Structural edits look at concepts and how they are organized. A structural edit asks big questions: Do the events that occur happen in a logical sequence? Do characters act in a consistent way? Do details and concepts remain believable and consistent?
  • Scene-level Edits: Scene-level edits look at scenes. Does every scene have a purpose? Does every scene add information, build on the stakes, and do so in the most interesting way possible? Does each scene include some sort of micro-tension? Does each chapter end on an interesting, engaging note?
  • Line-level Edits: Line-level editing is the first level of edit that acutally deals with the words you used. Does every sentence communicate the meaning you want it to? Did you use the words you wanted to? Are you using words that literally convey the meaning you want them to (as opposed to words that sound lovely but don’t convey your intention as well?) This is when you remove fluff and look for opportunities to use stronger words and more active voice.
  • Proofreading: Proofreading is literally just looking for errors in grammar. You look for typos, punctuation, and spelling errors.

And–here’s the clincher–you can do these one at a time.

These steps go from big to small. They’re also in order. It doesn’t make sense to obsess about your word choice and fix all the typos in a scene you’re going to delete. You don’t want to agonizingly polish your dialogue before you come back and cut out a character.

That said: Do some people edit everything at once? Of course! And if that works for you, that’s totally fine.

But if editing seems complicated and intimidating, it can be very helpful to think of these as completely separate processes that you do one at a time.

And remember: you’ll probably need to practice these.

These are all completely different skills.

Structural editing is kind of like a college English class. You’ll be good at it if you’re good at critically reading content, challenging every assumption, and playing Devil’s advocate. (Since they know [this important thing], wouldn’t it make more sense for the characters to do [this]? Why wouldn’t this character do [that] when they’ve previously shown to believe [whatever]?) Line editing requires the ability to look at words critically, and to think about how they communicate meaning. Proofreading requires a strong knowledge of grammar.

And I’ve known authors with pristine grammar who struggle with pacing and authors who have aced scene-level tension and should have their semicolon button pried off their keyboards. We all have things that come more naturally to us and things we have to practice.

And that’s probably enough for one post!

This post is long enough, isn’t it? I’ll probably do a series on this.

But just remember: editing isn’t just the act of taking a first draft and just editing the whole thing, magically. There are many different kinds of edits that look at totally different things. And editing a novel–which is a huge and monumental task–can be broken up into different phases that look at different things.

And next time, maybe I’ll talk about how I do structural edits!

Recommended word counts cause so much angst.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, check out this Writer’s Digest post, or this post on children’s fiction. (Unfortunately, they’re both pretty old. Still, you get the point.)

Agents and publishers look for novels with word counts within a certain range. This length varies by genre and the rules aren’t set in stone, but they’re pretty good guidelines for what an “average” book looks like. And that makes sense, right? A cozy romance the size of War and Peace would probably struggle to find a niche, wouldn’t it?

(None of this matters if you self-publish, of course. You may have a hard time finding a lot of readers for a 300,000-word MG epic, but you know what? No one’s going to stop you.)

But when folks go the agent and/or publisher route, this whole “word count” thing causes them no ends of angst. And while too-short novels can be an issue, the real heartache happens at the other end of the spectrum, when someone wants to pitch a much longer-than-average novel.

So let’s talk about it!

Why are word counts important?

If there was a mandatory law that debut authors could never go over 100,000 words, authors might agonize less. But instead, it’s a messy, messy world.

Let’s take YA fantasy as an example. A totally informal, but often-quoted rule of thumb is that a debut novel should be under 100,000 words. That’s fuzzy enough as it is, of course, because sub-genres differ, and contemporary stuff tends to be shorter than high fantasy and SF. But let’s give a huge range: YA fantasy debut novels can be 60,000 to 100,000 words long, with a sweet spot somewhere around 70-80K.

But there are people who have sold much longer books. And you will find lots of novels that are well over this range. So word counts don’t matter, right? Write whatever you want! But that can bite you in the butt.

Here’s why: if you’re querying a YA fantasy and it’s in the normal range, the agent probably won’t bat an eye. That’s a “normal” book. That’s fine.

But if it’s 200,000 words long, that’s going to raise some eyebrows. Like… was that intentional? Is this really the right length for this story? Does the author know much about the market, or read many books in this genre? And did they still submit a story this length, even knowing that most other books aren’t? It’s not the end of the world, but it’s… not a red flag, certainly, but an orange one? A small sign that this might be a difficult, weird, or unedited book?

And in the end, agents look for any reason to say no. If they’re on the fence and they see a potentially weird word count–something that you’d have to justify–they might just pass.

So that’s it. You’re making a difficult job harder. Now that agent won’t just ask themselves “Is this premise killer?” Instead, they’re thinking, “I like the premise, but it’s really long. Do I love it enough to request it anyway…?”

And word counts are exceptionally agonizing to fantasy authors.

Do you like fantasy? I like fantasy. I’ve read tons of high fantasy novels, and man–they are long. That’s the sign of a great one, right? Sprawling epics! Massive scales! Immense detail! ZILLIONS OF WORDS!

And there are lots of novels out there–some of them even debut novels!–that are well over 100K. Heck, you’ll find ones in the 200,000 range. So authors often put two and two together: Fantasy is long. Some people have written very long books and been published. So I shouldn’t worry when I submit my 175,000-word fantasy, right? It’s perfect! The length probably makes it better!

Sadly, every fantasy author thinks they’re the exception.

I know the pain. You want to write an epic. And if you have four POV characters, two countries, a war, and a plague, 100,000 words might seem a little restrictive. And if some people have gotten away with more, then surely you’ll be OK, right?

Except, see above. It bites people in the butt. And an agent isn’t going to waive the word count because you’re a fantasy author. They’ll see a very high word count, raise an eyebrow, and wonder: Is this 175,000 words after it’s been edited into lean, clean, streamlined perfection? Or did the author not know about the market? Or maybe they just didn’t edit themselves, because they thought it’d be fine because it’s fantasy?

It’s a pitfall. It’s tricky. But remember: There are a lot of new and hopeful fantasy authors writing mega-epics, all hoping that theirs will be the one that is so good that an agent picks it up anyway. And you could make your life a little easier by being at least somewhere near the 100,000 limit.

Besides, why does this have to be a bad thing?

Writing within word counts can actually be helpful!

Word counts don’t have to be an arbitrary cap on your creativity. They can be very useful things:

  • An average-length book will be easier to sell and market.
  • Writing with a word count limit can help you with pacing and plotting. If you want your book to be around 80,000 words long, for example, you’ll know that you’re in trouble if nothing has happened by word 50,000, or if your climax hasn’t ramped up by the 70,000 mark.
  • It makes the querying process easier, as it removes one reason to say “no.”
  • It makes it easier to find publishers, because your book will most likely fall within their requested range.
  • If you do happen to have a huge book, intentionally capping it at a certain point gives you a good idea how much you can “fit” in one book–and gives you content for sequels.
  • If you can get yourself established with an agent or publisher with a “normal” book, you can always use your early success to justify taking risks on much longer-than-normal books later.

Does every book have to be exactly the same? Of course not. Are there books that need to be long to tell their stories? Absolutely!

But if you’re a debut author, you don’t have a lot of clout. These people don’t know you. No one knows how popular your works will be. So it’ll be extra-difficult to convince someone that you shouldn’t just be the one rare soul they choose to work with–but that they should do so, even if your story is longer than what they’re looking for.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to take that gamble, of course! Lots of people win out. But it’s always good to know the potential pitfalls before you start.

Banner with part of the cover for the novel Justice Unending, by Elizabeth Spencer.

(No, I haven’t run out of banners yet.)

My YA fantasy novel, Justice Unending, is coming out on Friday, November 4! In honor of its release, I’m posting about my experiences as someone who’s new to this publishing thing.

I talked about how I found a small press last Friday. Today I’m talking about the editing process!

First Thing’s First: What Did I Do?

Evernight Teen did three waves of edits with me:

  • An in-depth edit. This involved partially rewriting chapters, moving sections around, fixing some logic errors, and reworking a lot of dialogue. I had two weeks to do this one.
  • An in-depth, line-level edit. I went through the entire manuscript line-by-line, reworking sentences to remove repetitive and imprecise words. I had one week for this one.
  • A final pass to approve the final draft and a handful of small changes from the editor. I had a few days for this one.

Everything was done in Microsoft Word using Track Changes and comments.

The editor also highlighted the words I used most often. I assume she used a tool for this, although I don’t know which. (I’d love to know what it was, though!) But whether it was “you used this word 200 times in this manuscript” or “this word shows up nine times in this chapter” every offending instance of these words was highlighted. It made it extremely easy to edit them down.

So what did I learn?

Having a schedule is a pretty big shift for someone who writes as a hobby.

I don’t write fiction for a living, so–like pretty much everyone who wants to write–I do it in my free time. I have no deadlines outside of the crushing personal expectations that torment me for not writing fast enough. No one cares if I take a few weeks off to travel or recover from a cold.

But when an editor says, “Hey, can you do developmental edits on 68,000 words in two weeks?” That’s second-job territory there. That’s “you better schedule 1-3 hours a day for this if you don’t want work to pile up” territory.

It’s a mandatory skill, of course. If you get an agent, a multi-book contract, or even if you just want to self-publish books at a reasonable pace, you’re on a deadline. But going from that “This is a hobby, so I can do whatever I want” headspace to “This is a job–make time for it” is… well, a shift.

Prepare to face your demons.

I’m an editor! That’s my day job! There can’t be that much wrong with my books, right?

Er, no. There’s a reason they say you can’t edit yourself well.

I hadn’t noticed, for example, that I was hopelessly addicted to the words voice (used approximately 231 times) or breath/breathe (used slightly more than 100), particularly in tandem. I’d have people breathing responses while they’re short of breath, or their breath was catching in their throat, and their voice was trembling or dripping with emotion.

And could (171 uses)! I knew I had a problem with writing Faye could feel this and Faye could see that instead of just saying Faye did stuff, except I thought I had removed most of those myself. Ha. No.

In short, I spent lot of time staring at every annoying habit I have. Non-stop. For weeks.

It’s easy to get tired.

 

It’s exciting to have a book coming out. It is! It really is! But by the time you’re submitting your novel to publishers, you’ve probably already spent a lot of time editing it. And doing more work, in a highly compressed timeline, can be hard.

I mean, just imagine it: You’ve got a project. You’ve already looked at it a million times. Now you have a deadline. Also, this is your debut novel, so you’re worried about making a bunch of stupid, naive mistakes.

But you can’t work on something else or take a day off because, you know, there’s a deadline.

So I spent three-plus weeks doing all Justice all the time! in two months. And I won’t lie: There were some hard days when I had to really dig deep for the energy and enthusiasm I needed to do a good job.

But it’s so, so worth it.

I mean, of course it was. A good editor always makes a book better! My edit cleaned up a lot of little issues, tidied up some problems with the plot, and removed a ton of annoyingly repetitive words. It was absolutely worth it.

And now I get to do the fun stuff, like lovingly looking at my cover, telling people about my book, and celebrating on the internet!

16080676Oh 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:

  1. 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.
  2. You make a to-do list of all the big edits that you need to do.
  3. You use the scene map to find which chapters include the issues you need to fix.
  4. Go directly to those chapters–and just them–and fix them.
  5. Gradually check everything off your list.
  6. 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!