I have written books before–none published as yet, but I’m working on that.
One thing I’ve learned–you can edit your book literally 20 times, and still not have it the way you want it to be. I have experience in this. I revised a manuscript some years back so many times, I ended up with 20 edits, and still wasn’t happy with the way the story flowed, especially since I have written the book as part of a series, and had finished the series in first-draft mode. Every time I sat down to the books to edit, I cringed. Every. Single. Time.
And each revision brought me to the thought, “Ok, I’m done now. It’s as good as it’s going to be at this point.”
But that’s the thing, it’s as good as it’s going to be “at this point.” Six months from now is not “as this point.” It’s six months from this point. And six months makes a huge difference in your perspective on your manuscript and on how to edit it.
Michael Crichton said:
“Books aren’t written—they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”
He’s right. You can have a wonderful story, but that doesn’t mean it flows well and that the technicalities of writing are what they should be. Books are rarely written in first-draft mode and published as is, and become bestsellers. They have to be rewritten, and rewritten, and rewritten, and rewritten again.
So how do you edit your book? Each author has their own method of madness, but many would agree that these steps are critical:
- Keep your hands to yourself.
It’s typically a good idea to let your book sit for a while, at least a week, preferably a few months. This gives you a chance to forget about some details, get a fresher perspective, gain new experiences in the time being, and work on other projects. Resist the urge to set fingers to keyboard and begin the editing process.
Distancing yourself is one of the best things you can do when editing your manuscript.
- Eye candy.
Give yourself a chance to read through your manuscript, not with the intent of editing it immediately, but to refresh your mind on the story’s details. Sometimes, you’ll find that you wrote something in a scene, but then never used, so it was wasted or irrelevant to your story arc. You can keep a track of details and notes, but don’t worry about editing things right now. You’re a reader here, not a (re)writer.
- 12’s a charm.
Write a bunch of short synopses of your book—and write 12 of them. Getting a different perspective on your book each time can help you focus on the story itself, especially if you are writing fiction. The goal here is to acquaint yourself with different perspectives that all include the core components of your story. I usually try to create a few scenarios—trying to examine several facets of the story. It’s helpful to do this after you’ve distanced yourself from your manuscript for a while, and then have re-read it.
- Kill it with fire!
Start rewriting. Focus with fixing sentence structure, ripping out paragraphs, and even entire chapters. Do this mindfully, with the intention of tightening your writing, and fixing major structural issues within your plot. You have have left out key items, or added erroneous or irrelevant ones. The goal here is to excise and seal.
5. You spin me ‘round…
You’re probably going to go through no less than 3-4 revisions, and most likely are going to rewrite about 10 times—and that’s no exaggeration.
6. …like a record, baby…
You’re going to go through editing again. Focus now on tightening, because at this point, you should’ve fixed the major structural inadequacies of your plot. Worry about removing excess words, making scenes more descriptive, improving dialogue.
7. Mirror, mirror, on the wall!
Worry now about polishing your manuscript. Go through and make sure that sentences are reflecting what you want them to reflect. Make sure your writing is a mirror that reflects what your mind’s eyes see.
8. Beta me this.
Send it to workshop buddies, writing buddies, and friends/family members. Have others critique. Make sure you find people who can be both nice but harsh; they won’t sugarcoat their criticisms and tell you it’s all fine, but they won’t be cruel to you and bring you down. Find as many beta readers as you can—the more the better. Yes, too many chefs spoil the plot, but if a bunch of people are saying the same thing, you can be assured that they’re probably right.
9. Waterproof it.
Give your manuscript one more look-through. Make sure everything’s as tight as possible.
10. Find an agent or publisher!
Between the editing steps, you should let your manuscript sit, for at least a few weeks, if not a few months. Rushing through the steps will get you nothing except an manuscript that stays rough.
*Note: This article was originally published on January 13, 2016.