Writing a Book part 5 – Editing

If you’ve stuck with me through parts 1, 2, 3 and 4, then thank you! As I said at the start, I’ve always suspicious of anything that claims to definitively tell you how to write. But hopefully, my advice is useful to you and will help you on your writing journey.

So we’ve reached the fun part – editing. Well, it’s fun for me. I’ve written articles about this in the past. It’s how I earn my keep so I should have a fondness for it! But I know not everyone shares this fondness. And even the keenest editors, myself included, will admit that sometimes it drags on. And on. And on. So here’s some advice to help you edit your masterpiece.

There’s no right way

Like the writing itself, editing is what works for you personally. You could edit as you go, writing one day and editing the next. You could wait until you’ve finished a chapter and then edit it. Or you could write the whole thing and then re-edit. This is probably the most common way and it works for me. As a perfectionist editing as I go is tempting but I know I’ll never finish that way.

Try doing absolutely nothing

You may be eager to turn your mismash of moving parts in a beautiful machine as soon as possible. But, personally, I find it useful to take a break and do something else. This could be another writing project or nothing to do with writing at all. The secret is in removing yourself from the world you’ve created for a bit and not looking at what you’ve written. I’d suggest at least a week, if not longer if you can manage it. Come back with fresh, critical eyes.

Read it aloud

If you do nothing else, then edit somewhere private so you can read your work out loud. When you speak the words, that’s when the errors, grammatical mistakes, tone and flow all become immediately apparent. This is especially important for dialogue. It will stop your characters sounding like walking Wikipedia articles when they go into ‘exposition mode’.

At some point, you will hate it

It’s inevitable. You will hate your work. You will bemoan the writing, rage at the plot and cry at the characterisation. You will ask yourself, “why oh why did I ever think I could be a writer!?” This is perfectly normal. Take a break, take several if you need to. Nine times out of ten you will be drawn back to your writing. Most of the time a bit of break and Netflix binge is all it takes. It could take a couple of weeks or months for you to feel like you can return to the work. But don’t give up. I think it’s pretty rare for a story not to be worth pursuing when you get this far.

Don’t forget the boring bits

In my experience, with the first, second and possibly third edit you’re still in ‘story’ mode. Then you need to edit turn into proofreader extraordinaire. You have to ignore the lovely ebb and flow of your world and get practical. Typos and grammatical snafoos are your bread and butter. Of course, you can pay someone to help you out with this, it depends on a) how flush you are with cash and b) your faith in your own proofreading abilities.

Know when to stop

There is no perfect number of edits. None. You may do two, you may do nine. It would be nice to say that you’ll know when you’re done, but the truth is, you’ll always want to do just a bit more. The key is to know when to stop. And only you can decide that. The time you take after each edit will help you to figure out if you want to re-visit it. I go on my gut feeling. If I know I’ve told the story, told it well and done justice to my characters, then it’s done.

Related reads

Writing a Book part one – Research
Writing a Book part two – Characters
Writing a Book part three – Plotting
Writing a Book part four – Drafting

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