Saturday, July 18, 2009

Weekend Writing Tips: Editing

"Every writer needs an editor. I don't care how good you are or think you are." -Nora Roberts

Tessa Dare (@TessaDare) tweetted this from the Romance Writer's of America national conference this week. Truer words have never been spoken. Nora Roberts is an author with quite a broad library of work under her belt. She's dealt with editors at different publishing houses and from different perspectives. She is quite frankly one of the most if not the most successful romance author out there churning out best seller after best seller. But she still needs an editor.

We all do.

The Process of Editing

Editing can be a painful and brutal process for a writer if they are not open to suggestion, change or improvement. It's a mistake to believe that the way you wrote it the first time is the best way it can be written and there is no better way. In fact, that sentence I just wrote could benefit from an editor.

When I start on a new project, I write my first draft. It can take me anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to complete that draft. Then I let the draft sit for a week or two before I tackle it again. The second draft will be sharper, better and more focused. I know where the story is going, I know which plot lines are left dangling and I can apply myself to making those parts better.

The third draft may involve rewriting a few scenes, adding scenes, deleting scenes and smoothing the continuity. By this point, I have fixed all the obvious errors and I am looking at what I consider to be a pretty submittable work.

The Beta Reader

I'll turn to a beta reader (your beta reader may be your critique group or critique partner as well) at this point, preferably someone who is going to tell me that I spell Karl three different ways and that I talk about a blue ford for the first half of the book and it turns aqua colored in the last half. The beta reader provides me with valuable insight. They can tell me that they totally forgot this was a paranormal until halfway through when it blindsided them. This type of feedback is vital to the editorial process because it tells me whether I, as the author, have done my job.

Remember, I know everything that's going on, I know all the backstory, so I don't always appreciate it when I skip a nuance here or there. The beta reader can point out these errors. Then I go back and massage the text. Now I'm ready to submit it.

The Line Edits

Once a manuscript is accepted and your contracts are signed, you as the writer wait. The line editor will receive your manuscript and begin the painful process of going through it, line by line. They will correct punctuation, comment on areas where you tell instead of showing (the dreaded: show, don't tell of writing). In some cases they will make suggestions, they will ask questions, they will point out inconsistencies and in short, their red pen will figuratively (and literally in some cases) bleed all over your work.

At this time, you as the author, need to toughen up. The surgical incisions look bloody and painful, but if you do your job right, you will create a much stronger, tighter and better work than before. You don't have to agree with every change made by the editor, in fact -- if you feel strongly that something must remain as is, defend your position.

You'll want a few days to go through the line edits. First, accept all the obvious changes -- spell errors, punctuation, format changes and correct grammar. Just accept them and move on.

Review the simple changes, if you don't have a reason to reject them. Go ahead and accept those simple changes. Now tackle the longer ones. Review them against the manuscript. Attempt what the editor is asking you to do and keep an open mind.

I rewrote an entire scene in Remembering Ashby based on the suggestion of the line editor -- not only was the scene better, the rest of the story was improved by that change. I was able to tighten up and really deliver emotional punch that those scenes lacked.


Second Round Of Edits

Line edits can take two or three rounds before you are totally done. But review each draft as you complete the edits and try to look at it with a fresh eye. What you birthed in the original manuscript is honed, shined to a brilliance under the line editor.

Next step, copy editing. This process is a little less painful, but designed to help catch glaring errors that you and the line editor may have missed. Remember, when you get too close to a manuscript, you can't see the forest for the trees.

Finally, The Galleys

The Galley is the last time you get to make any revisions before your manuscript goes to print. I advise reading it, then putting it aside for a couple of days if you can and reading it fresh. The last thing you want is a typo that appears in the published edition for the whole world to see.

So editing can be painful, but ultimately it is so worth it. No matter how many names you may call your editor during the process, you'll want to buy them a drink when you're looking at your finished product.

What are your experiences with editing?

3 comments:

  1. Hi ;)
    This was an excellent blog post.
    Terrific advice for any writer, aspiring to be published or already there.
    I took book & magazine publishing in college and learned how to edit there.
    I am trying to "dare to be bad" and stop editing my work after every paragraph but it is hard, as breaking any habit is.
    I have just begun to critique a novel for a very talented author I met on Twitter and sought advice from all the excellent authors on Twitter because I believed in the book strongly and wanted to do it justice.
    :)
    Those are my editing experiences.
    Thanks again for sharing.
    Love from Canada
    twitter.com/RKCharron
    xoxo

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  2. This is fantastic, thank you. I'm stuck on the beta reader. I don't have time in my schedule for a support group and the best people I have to help me with this end up backing off the deal before they even read it. That's where I am. I need a dedicated beta reader like myself.

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  3. I depend on my beta readers/critique partners. They're priceless. (No, I won't share them.)

    I can't believe some of the stuff I missed that my editor and the copy editor catch. Some of it is so obvious my face hits my palm in disgust at myself, and some of it isn't so obvious but equally great catches. Their suggestions have always made my stories stronger/better.

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