Skip to main content

The dreaded edit

After my mid-week rant, normal Friday service has been resumed, with number two of my how-to (or rather, how I do it*, which is as far from a definitive answer as it's possible to get) blogs.

So, editing. By this, I mean an edit by a professional edit, not self editing (although many of the same principles apply). I know so many people who find this stage a real nightmare and I can see why - a lot of information comes at you with a professional edit, and it's to be applied to 60000 + words (and for something like space opera, or epic fantasy, well in excess of 100,000).

I actually enjoy editing and rarely get bogged down. I'm now on my 5th manuscript undergoing the process, so I think I'm getting reasonably versed on the process that works for me. This, then, is what to expect, possible ways to approach it, and any tricks I've learned.


All the editors I've worked with (5 to date) give me an overview of their comments, and a returned manuscript with additional details inside.

Always, always start with the overview. For two reasons - it's designed to be user friendly. I often get any well-dones within that one, so there's something to take home. But, also - an edit is going to change the shape of your manuscript. You need a bit of time musing on that possible shape before getting bogged down on the nitty gritty.

You won't get your grammar corrected at this stage (and having really bad grammar makes an editor's job much harder, hence why you should try to submit something reasonably tidy). You won't get handed back a new manuscript with everything nice and tidy in it. The work remains yours, both in the figurative sense of the book being yours, and in the literal sense of the hard work to be done.

What you get are problems. In the current book I'm working in (Abendau's Legacy) I've been handed the problem of one character arc not working. Which means reworking it whilst keeping the rest of the script reasonably intact. Since my characters interact a lot, that's fairly challenging- but not undoable. The problem is mine to resolve, although some possible routes forwards have been suggested.


1. Take time. I read the overview, make some notes, close it and try not to actually start work for a week or so. I might ask betas, or brainstorm, and only when I have the sense of the new shape do I start work.

2. Work from the beginning to the end. For me, changing scenes doesn't work. Part of the edit is the flow and I now have the distance from the original writing period to assess that. I might pick up too many people doing the same action, or repetition, or little words left out. So I start on line one and I work to line-the-last.

3. Use the edited document. At this stage I shift from the overview comments (but keep my notes on them) to the document. I check each chapter for comments, fix them, then review the chapter from the beginning.

4. Keep going. Even now, don't get bogged down on making new scenes effective. They are as much drafts as the early book was. I cannot, ever, deliver a perfect scene on the first go.

5. Track your changes! Check with your editor how they prefer this. Most want Track Changes on, some like changes in bold or italics. But don't change the blessed thing without the editor being able to see where you have or they have to come at the document fresh again and could easily miss something you've adjusted that knocks continuity out.

6. Don't panic! Be logical. That's why beginning to end works for me but for people who approach writing using a one-scene-at-a-time approach and work out of continuity, that's fine  - just make sure when you knit it together that you've adjusted the continuity where needed.

7. Ask for help, if you need it. I rarely do, after perhaps checking my new direction, but an editor would much prefer to answer a quick email query than find out you've gone wrong for 50,000 words and the whole thing needs redone again. Don't freeze - ask.

8. Kill the darlings. God, this is hard. But the reason I'm in the mess I'm in with this character arc (Lichio's, for anyone who has read the books) is that I had an intended arc for another character related to him (Josef) that I changed, and it meant that Lichio's character arc lacked the growth I originally intended. The minute I changed Josef's arc, I should have overhauled Lichio's, and I know it. But, that's what editors do so well - see what you're too close to do.

Sometimes, if a line means a lot to me I pop it in somewhere else. sometimes I pop it at the end and see if somewhere logical fits it. If I get to the end, and it hasn't, I delete. But most times, I just delete it.

It's a hard part of writing, but some of your best lines will never see the light of day - and when they do, they might not be a lovely line anymore, but something forced.

9. When you're done, go back and review. Now is the time to polish those new scenes, when you've reached the end. You have distance and time to review them. Polish until they don't show as new.

10. Expect to get some of it back again. I know, it's soul-destroying, but this might - will - not be it. I usually get sign off on most of what I've put in, but always, always there are a couple of scenes that will not behave. (In Abendau's Heir it was the final scene with the Empress, in Sunset over Abendau there was a certain speech that required several run throughs.) This might be the time to call in your critique partners and let them maul you for fun - most of Kare's speech in Sunset over Abendau was written by my writing group, the Hex-Men, as it happens. Turns out Anna Dickinson writes fine stirring words.

So, is it worth it, this big process. Does it make the book better enough?

Yes. Yes, and yes again. From this edit - the close edit from a professional whose name is going to appear on Amazon as the editor, in their history, their name in the acknowledgements, who is as bought into getting this right as the writer - the book emerges. The final book. The one you're going to have your name on. No matter how hard, how daunting, and how many passes it takes, it's worth it.

* Arguably, how I don't do it, since I'm writing this instead.


Anya Kimlin said…
Thanks for that. You have me excited for my edits in a few months time. You're definitely sticking to your pledges.
Joanne Zebedee said…
Good stuff! Enjoy.