If you’ve stuck with this through the previous parts of this blog series (research, characters, and plotting) then thank you! As I said at the start of it, I’m always a wee bit suspicious of anything that claims to definitively tell you how to write. But hopefully, my writing advice has been useful to you and will continue to help you on your writing journey.
So we’ve reached the fun part – editing. Well, it’s fun for me, and as it’s how I earn my keep so I should have a fondness for it! But I know not everyone shares this and even the keenest editors, myself included, will admit that sometimes it drags. A lot. So here’s some advice to help you edit your masterpiece.
There’s no right way
Like 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 go back and start editing then. 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!
Before you start – stop
You’re probably eager to turn your mishmash of moving parts into a beautiful machine as soon as possible. But personally, I find it useful to take a break and do something else before I dive in. This could be another writing project or simply nothing at all to do with writing. The idea behind this is that removing yourself from the world you’ve created for a bit means you can come back with fresh, critical eyes. I’d suggest at least a week, if not longer if you can manage it.
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 from sounding like walking Wikipedia articles when they go into “exposition mode”.
At some point, you’ll hate it
It’s inevitable. You will hate your work. You’ll bemoan the writing, rage at the plot, and cry at the characterisation. You’ll 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’ll be drawn back to your writing. Most of the time a bit of a break and a Netflix binge is all it takes. It may need a couple of weeks or months for you to feel like you can return to your writing. 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 turn into a “proofreader extraordinaire”. You have to ignore the lovely ebb and flow of your world and get practical. Typos and grammatical snafus 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 revisit 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.