Once again, I’m ready to edit my latest novel. Even though this isn’t my first rodeo (or even second or third), it’s still intimidating to stand at the beginning of the process. I find myself staring at the manuscript with a crippling sense of self-doubt. What if I can’t figure out a way to fix what’s wrong? What if this thing can’t be saved?
Maybe you’ve felt this way too? You’ve gotten past the elation of finishing your story. You’ve celebrated. You’ve gotten some feedback from beta readers and/or an editor, and now it’s time to dig back in. But you don’t know where to start, and with each passing day, you feel more and more stressed.
First, remember you’re not alone. All writer’s feel intimidated and insecure at some point or another. Sometimes, it’s when they’re about to sit down and begin their edits. So, how do you deal with this? You need a plan. Here’s how I tackle the editing process.
Sort through the feedback.
Remember, you need it and you asked for it, so put on your big kid pants. It’s a beta reader or editor’s job to tell you what’s wrong with your manuscript. They have a distance from the story that you don’t have any longer, and they can help you figure out where something is off. But how do you know if their recommendations are good ones? I use three benchmarks. First, if I hear something more than once, I pay attention. Second, if something is already bothering me, I fix it. And finally, if my editor says it’s not working, most likely it’s not. She’s the professional.
Tackle big problems first.
Okay so you’ve made a list of the things that need work. Now, where do you start with the edits? Don’t bother finessing your sentences and trying to make every paragraph a literary masterpiece. That’s a waste of time since you might have to cut some of your prose first. Deal with the big issues.
What might big issues look like? Things like weak character development, pacing problems, plot holes, and reader confusion count as big issues. Perhaps you’ve gotten a note advising you there’s too much ‘tell’ and not enough ‘show’ in your manuscript. You may be info dumping. Cut areas that serve no purpose – those places readers have told you they’re flipping through pages in boredom.
Here are a few posts on how to deal with some of these bigger problems: What’s All the Fuss About Show vs. Tell?; Keep the Pace; 3 Character Development Traps and Solutions; How to Find Plot Holes in Your Writing.
Take a break.
Once you’ve tried to address all the bigger issues on your checklist, set the manuscript aside for a little while. If you’re on a tight deadline, a little while might mean only a day or two. The point is, you need another break so you can come back to it with a clear head and a little distance.
Now read through and make those finer revisions. Here’s where you can look at sentence structure, word choice, and flow. Tidy everything up, and then yes, send it back to the editor.
Rinse and repeat.
Generally, a manuscript needs more than one round of edits. Someone else needs to read it again and react to the changes you’ve made. Often these changes produce a ripple effect and the whole document needs to be checked for consistency.
Use a proofreader.
If you are publishing independently, don’t forget this step. Nothing is more annoying than proudly opening your new book only to find a stupid typo or spelling mistake.
Eventually, you have to let it go.
You’ve written the best story you can, you’ve done the work to revise and tighten it up with several rounds of edits, and you’ve made sure many eyes have had a chance to review it. At some point, you have to let it go. This may be harder than you think, but if you’ve put in the time and done the work, you should be able to proudly stand behind your novel.