Benjamin Solah added a post by the same name – How Do I Edit? – to his blog earlier in the week. I found it interesting to read about how someone else tackles the editing process and then I started thinking about how I would answer the same question. I admit it isn’t easy to answer but I’m going to have an attempt at doing so. This might end up being a long post.
My answer relates to novel length manuscripts. To make my answer less complicated I will talk primarily about my current project – Mirror Image – but the steps below are generally what I do for all my projects.
When I start a new project I usually create a document, setting the page specifications to conform to publisher requirements, and save the document in a folder with the same title as the manuscript – in this case Mirror Image. This folder will be found within My Writing folder. So the location would be… My Writing>Mirror Image and the saved document would look like this… Mirror Image V1 10.1.09. I like including the date as it is a reminder of when I started writing the story.
When I move onto the second draft (or first edit of the completed manuscript) I will save the document as Mirror Image V2 29.5.09 and version 1 will be moved into a new folder within the Mirror Image folder called Old Versions. I don’t like clutter or the risk that I might open the wrong version by mistake and not realise what I’ve done. However, I do like to keep old versions in case I go mental and ruin a story by over editing it…or heaven forbid, I delete it by mistake (this hasn’t happened yet, but the possibility is always there). All future edits will be handled in the same way until I end up with a lone document entitled Mirror Image Final 15.7.09. This is the version that will be submitted to publishers.
But how do I get to that version?
The first edit is always done on screen. I read through the document making minute changes such as typos and easy to fix plot errors. I make notes about the not so easy to fix plot errors or character inconsistencies. My only thought in this first edit is to get a handle on how the story reads and you can’t do that if you spend months fixing mistakes, so I want to read the story through in no longer than a week or two.
The story firmly planted in my mind – major mistakes and all – I then let the story sit for a while. Not too long as I find I lose momentum. A couple of weeks to a month is generally long enough. During this time, I’m still working on the story mentally. I’m thinking about how those major inconsistencies and errors can be fixed. Do I need to do a bit of replanning? Or do I need to rethink my characters? Is more research required? If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions then I’ll get started on that, otherwise, I’ll just think about how to make everything more realistic, smoother and truer to what has been planned.
The second edit is where the major changes take place. Depending on what the problem is I might follow a single thread and change it before turning my attention to something else or I might attempt to make all changes as I work my way through the manuscript. In the past I have removed characters, inserted new ones, deleted plot threads as well as created them and I have deleted entire scenes, rewritten others completely from scratch and adding new ones. Editing can be a complex, time consuming procedure, but a writer must be prepared to do whatever it takes to improve the storylines and plots within a manuscript. It is hard work and often monotonous.
At the completion of the second edit, I’ll move quickly into the third edit, which is a repeat of the first edit – mainly fixing up typos and minor errors. Again, I’m concentrating on how the story reads and how everything fits together.
Once this is done, I will consider asking readers opinions. With Mirror Image, someone I trust to be honest and constructive has asked to read it when I’m ready to share it. However, with other projects, I normally turn to writers I know and places like Critique Circle (which was more than helpful when I got to this stage with Cat’s Eyes). I find the feedback from readers invaluable and the manuscript always improves because of it.
Depending on the feedback given, I may have to repeat edits two and three above.
When I’m satisfied that the manuscript has been polished to printing stage, then that’s what I do. I print it out and read it (with red pen in hand). I’m always surprised by the number of typos I still find, but that’s the way of a writer.
Unless I discover something terribly wrong with the manuscript, in which case I could possibly have to do edits two and three all over again, which would be unfortunately at this stage, I would now move onto what I would hope is the final edit stage.
This is when I read through the manuscript, yet again (usually on screen), and make adjustments to anything that I feel isn’t quite up to standard. I will make the changes noted on the printed copy and I might even try to improve word usage (if I think it’s required). With luck, I will be happy and that will be the end of the editing, however, sometimes more read throughs are necessary. How many? As many as it takes!
So, for me, it wouldn’t be unusual to do at least six edits on a novel length manuscript. This is, of course, if I get the storylines and plots just about right on the first draft. Major problems will mean additional edits have to be done. I think I average eight edits for most of my projects.