E is for … Editing
Editing is my favourite part of the writing process, because it means I’ve written something and now I can work on shaping it into something better.
I’ve learned not to edit as I write, whether it’s a short story or a novel length piece of work. Instead, I try to get the first draft down without looking back. I may re-read the last few paragraphs from a previous session, to get me back into the story, but I try hard not to mess with them.
Why? There are several reasons but the first and foremost is that there is nothing sacred in a first draft. I may change or rewrite huge pieces of the story and those words I spent so much time getting ‘just right’ may be deleted altogether. So why waste my precious writing time trying to perfect something I may not even keep?
Secondly, it stops the flow. I go from writing mode into editing mode and lose my writing momentum. It’s better that I continue to write and then go back and fix things than to keep rewriting the first few chapters. That was something I did a great deal when I first started writing and it wasn’t until I stopped that I managed to finish a first draft of a novel.
Stage 1 – revision – making sure it all fits together
I tend to write scenes and build from there. Once I have a completed piece of work, I read it through from end to end and make notes of anything that needs to be changed. I’m still not trying to perfect the wording at this stage. That comes later. This first pass is looking at ‘big picture’ problems; I’m looking for dead ends, missing information, continuity issues, contradictions and other glitches that affect the novel as a whole.
For example, I may have a character in chapter one who has something important to say to my main character and then they never appear again. I’ll look at that character and decide whether they need to be there, or whether that important piece of information can come from one of the other characters.
Or perhaps there’s an event that happens mid-way through the novel, but I don’t follow up on it because my story went in another direction. I have to make a decision on whether that scene is necessary and – if it is – I need to follow it up and link it to the rest of the story rather than leave it as a loose end.
Stage 2 – editing – making the words work
After I’ve done the first editing pass and I’m happy with the changes, I’ll start to work on the words themselves. My early drafts are quite bare and mostly consist of action and dialogue, with just enough description to give me a sense of where we are and who’s who.
So, in this next pass, I’ll add in the detail that brings the world and the characters to life. I’ll also work on sentence and paragraph structure. In this editing pass, this:
Her thoughts drifted back to earlier, and her conversation with the doctor. When she had tried to concentrate on his words, her gaze had wandered to search the face of the nurse who sat beside her. The nurse had been as kind as anyone could but been unable to offer anything more than empathy.
Brain stem glioma, they called it. The doctor had said surgery was too risky. They might be able to give her a couple more years, with radiotherapy or chemotherapy, but death was her ultimate prognosis.
Her thoughts drifted back to earlier, and her conversation with Doctor Reece. When she had tried to concentrate on his words, delivered in kindly, muted tones, her gaze had wandered to search the face of the young nurse who sat beside her, holding her hand.
Megan. That was her name. Megan had been as supportive and kind as anyone could but ultimately, like the doctor, had been unable to offer anything more than empathy.
Brain stem glioma. That’s what they’d called the monster that was going to kill her.
The doctor had said surgery was too risky, the brain stem too delicate to withstand damage from even the most delicate of surgical tools.
They might be able to give her a couple more years, with radiotherapy or chemotherapy, but death was her only prognosis.
Stage 3 – Proofreading
Once I’m happy with the words and the sentence structure, the final stage is a line edit or proofread. Whatever your writing and editing process, this stage is essential. This is where I look for typos, spelling mistakes, punctuation issues and other errors. I also look for repeated words. Finally, I run a search and replace to change all the double spaces to single spaces, because I learned to type when two spaces were the norm and muscle memory is hard to shake off.
To help with the line edit, I convert the document to a different font. It makes the writing less familiar and I’m likely to pick up any anomalies more easily.
And that’s it. Or at least until something makes me go back and look at it again.
I’m currently doing a complete rework of The Lost Weaver, after some useful feedback from a publishing house. The process is somewhere between a first draft and a first edit. I’m completely rewriting some scenes, and reworking others to fit with the new ones. Once that’s done I will do a complete re-read and start the editing process on stage 2, unless I pick up continuity errors on the re-read.