Making sure you don’t get bogged down in edits
Rebecca Mikkelson, Editor-in-Chief Authors 4 Authors Publishing
It can be hard to decide when the best time to edit is—many of us are perfectionists who want it done right the first time. Or, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we’re scared to put bad words on the page, so we edit it to death. We’ve talked a little bit about how to edit already, but we haven’t talked about when to edit. So when is the best time to edit? Let’s find out.
Wait, what? You can’t edit before! You’re right, you can’t. In this case, I mean before you’ve even finished the first chapter.
Stop what you’re doing. Stop it. This. is. a. pit. You’ve entered the fire swamp and are going to drown in the lightningsand, and Westley isn’t going to be there to save you before your work in progress dies a slow and agonizing death.
When you become so obsessed with making sure that every single word is perfect before you can move on, you’re never going to move on, because guess what? It’s never going to be absolutely perfect—ever.
But before I move on to the next section, I want to leave you with a quote and a bit of advice:
“The first draft of anything is shit.” ― Ernest Hemingway
I regularly tell this quote to authors who are new to writing, and also that shit makes the best fertilizer; without those bad words on the page, you can’t make them into something better. Don’t let your fear of not doing things right the first time get in the way of finishing your story and leave you with regrets.
So, despite what you might think from the section above, editing while you write is not a bad thing. It becomes a bad thing when you can’t go more than a few lines before obsessively going back to edit it again and again and again.
There are a couple of different ways that you can edit during the writing process of a manuscript that can be very productive and help you come out with a clean rough draft. There are three that I would recommend if you’re determined to edit while you’re writing, and each one has a different recommendation of how much you should actually be doing during each one. I will say, though, that editing during the process also runs the risk of slowing down finishing your first draft.
At the end of every chapter
If you’re wanting to edit after every single chapter, the most you should be looking for is making sure that everything is spelled correctly and your sentences flow smoothly. There’s a poetry to writing, and every sentence should flow into the next without feeling stilted. For example, you might have something like this in your manuscript:
He stood. Then he sat. Then he got up and paced.
They’re not very good sentences, and it can easily be turned into one. But another thing about it is it lacks any feeling; it’s very clinical and dry. When you’re going through your edits, you’ll ideally want to end up with something more like this:
He stood before quickly changing his mind and sat down again. His knee bounced as he anxiously waited for news of his wife. He couldn’t take it anymore and jumped from his seat, pacing back and forth in the waiting room.
Your reader needs to be able to feel what you’re seeing in your mind’s eye while you’re writing, and it might not happen the first time you write it down, which is okay. It’s more than okay—that’s why there are edits and rewrites, and then more edits. And then more edits.
Every few POV chapters
Let’s say that you have only two POV characters, and their timelines are happening in a linear story. You might have more, but that’s easy to adjust with how many chapters you’ll have to wait to edit.
As with after every chapter, you’ll be looking for spelling errors, making sure your sentences flow smoothly, but now you’re going to make sure that your timeline matches up. This is going to be things like time of day, what the weather is, and if Character B’s scenes actually come after Character A’s.
At the end of each act
Unsurprisingly, editing once you’ve finished each act is going to include everything talked about in the above sections, but this one is a little different. When you’ve got a full act to edit, you can make sure that you’re hitting your plot points and pinch points at the right time, and that you’ve definitely introduced your conflict at the right moment. Especially with the first act, if you haven’t introduced your conflict by the end of it, you have made a major mistake, and it needs to be corrected before you get too far into the process.
Ideally, this will keep your manuscript in a tidy order, and you won’t have to add in points that you then have to edit to make sure it flows seamlessly with your other work and that you don’t have to take away superfluous scenes that then create timeline issues that need to be edited out.
This, I’ve found is the most common way of editing. You wait until you’ve gotten everything out of your system, and then you take a break to clear your head and take a whack at editing.
I don’t want to keep making this point to death, but what you’ll be looking for when you edit afterward is everything mentioned above: spelling, sentence structure, timeline, and plot structure.
The beauty of editing after everything is finished, though, is that if something comes up in act three that you want to slowly sow the seeds for in act one and two, you can easily put those in now that you know it’s happening.
But, let’s be honest here. You’re going to be editing the whole thing after you’re finished anyway, regardless of whether you wait to edit until the very end of the writing process or not. And it will be a couple of times, at that.
There really is no right or wrong way to edit—with the exception of editing everything so much you never move forward. For me, I tend to edit at the end of everything. I like to be able to see the full picture and know where the story is going and how it got there to make sure that even the beginning chapters point in that direction.
But, no matter which process you choose, editing is going to happen several times until you feel like you’ve been edited out.
Join us next week when we talk about editing software and apps.
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