Making It Better: How I Edit

Not too long ago I was asked what my editing process is, and my first thought was that I had probably shared that at some time in the past on this blog. In the next instant I realized that whatever post from 3-7 years ago that might exist was likely obsolete. As I have worked through making podcasts of three novels, and incorporating what I have learned to improve my craft, I have developed a new process for editing my works.

Obviously the first step is writing the initial draft. After that I usually like to let it sit and “age” for a month or three before I start any edits. I do this to get my head out of the book a bit, and to reduce that tendency to think I remember all of the twists and plot points. For the third Ness Relevant book it had been over three years since I wrote it, as I had taken a break from writing to finish by college education. Needless to say the story was far from fresh in my mind.

Given the long hiatus I did something that I plan to adopt for all future edits: I read through the novel first. I didn’t worry about misspellings or basic copywriting edits, I just let the story unfold. I did keep a sharp eye out for plot holes, insufficient motivations, and sections of story that either need work or were missing. I created a short to-do list of these items so they could be addressed later. I did this by exporting the book from Scrivener into an ebook and read it on my Kindle app, using the Notes feature to accumulate my to-do list. Once I was done I transferred that list to a document within the Scrivener project for the book.

In the past I would first do a “silent” edit, and then do another pass read aloud. I had added the spoken version because even after several editing passes on earlier works I would always find things to fix during audio recording. Typically these would be repeated words and awkward phrasings that just don’t stand out until I hear them.

This time I decided it made the most sense to do the first pass aloud. So not only was I fixing the normal copy problems, but I was also fixing those things that the verbal reading highlighted. I also kept an eye towards the to-do list I accumulated from my initial read-through earlier. When I reached the correct point if I determined that the changes were relatively minor, I would handle it then. Once I reached the end of the story, then it was time to address the larger to-do items.

Then it was back to the beginning for another read-through, this time silent. The main point for this pass was to ensure that the story was flowing, that there were no major continuity issues, and that nothing important had been left out. For example, in the third Ness installment I determined at this point I needed to add a bit more diversity, so I switched the race of some characters. I also worked to “punch up” my descriptions in this pass. This might entail invoking the senses, varying and reducing my use of dialogue tags, or finding an interesting way to add an additional dimension to a scene through creative word choice.

At this point I felt I was “done” with it, which really just means it’s ready for the real edits done my by wife, the Pianoeditor. Using her (virtual) red pen of doom she will catch anything I miss, which will be legion. Then I will incorporate her changes and notes into the final manuscript. After that will come another read-through to ensure it’s ready to go. Then I can start working on distribution by ebook, and perhaps audio, depending on the title.

This was my first book edited in the novel writing software, Scrivener. It was useful in a number of ways. I kept my to-do list in a separate document in my project, and as I completed items I changed the font to do a strikeover. it was handy having all of that together in the same project. Any scenes that needed to be re-ordered or split off into their own chapters were easily moved, one of the main features of novel-writing software. The spell check was very helpful, and while it may not be as strong as Word’s it worked very well. I do wish there was an integrated thesaurus as well, as I found the automatic link to Thesaurus.com to be limiting.

I am planning on applying the wife’s edits out of the Word document back into Scrivener. Yes, this will be tedious, but I want Scrivener to be the central repository for the story. If this gets to be too unwieldy in the future I may have to re-assess, but for now that is my plan.

So that’s my process going forward. See anything that doesn’t make sense? Think I’ve missed a step? Have a different editing process of your own? Leave me a comment and tell me about it!

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