Polishing the Precious

no, what you think. This is about my editing process and a kind of companion piece to the second Lilt episode for those of you who’d rather read. Remember that this is just my own process and any other are equally as valid – in fact, I’d love to hear what you do in the comments!

1. Writing the first draft.
I have two basic methods here. Preferably, I plan everything out and write it down with as little editing in between as possible. I often don’t even read through the chapters once I’ve finished. This
editing1is only possible, however, when I already know where it’s going AND if I am reasonably sure of what I am doing. I wrote the Lakeside sequel this way, straight through and it went really well. But sometimes that’s not the case. I’m currently writing a YA piece – I’ve never written YA before and from the original idea, the story actually took quite a turn that I had to accommodate by changing some plot points in the beginning.
However, I still feel like editing has very little to do in the writing process. It slows me down too much. And while I might indulge it sometimes (especially when I feel off about my writing) the idea is to write straight through as much as possible.

2. Resting period
After I finish a manuscript, it goes to rest in a file somewhere. It has been worked very hard and it can go to sleep for a while. I’d say at least a month and so far I have been lucky (unlucky?) not to have had pressing deadlines that would make this impossible.editing2
The idea of rest, by the way, only applies to the manuscript. I go right on writing, although I have a certain preference to write a few shorter pieces (novellas or short-stories) after finishing a whole novel. Continued writing and reading is important because concentrating on new projects multiplies the effect you want to achieve (forgetting a bit about your story and gaining distance) and it also keeps you working, keeps you learning and in the end you may even be able to improve upon the manuscript later based on what you learned in that time.

3. The read-through
After waiting a couple of weeks, I convert my manuscript to .mobi and read it on my kindle. This helps me get further distance from the work, enabling me to read it as much as possible like I would read any other book.
This is mainly to test pacing and the flow of the story, to see if I get excited by it. If not, there’s a bigger problem than I know how to fix right now, but then you have to go deeper, far far deeper. So let’s assume that it reads like an interesting story with stuff to fix.
What I look out for here is:
– Where does my attention slump?
– Which chapters feel repetitive or aren’t actually needed in the big picture.
– Does the story actually begin at the beginning or is there a chapter before the beginning that has to go? Is the beginning engaging enough?

– Does the beginning and the ending form a satisfying frame? Can this be improved upon?
– Is the climax exciting enough?
– Are there any plot holes?
And I also use the highlighting function for other things that catch my eye, like typos and awkward sentences. I don’t fix anything at that stage, I just mark it because it’s hard to read on without doing anything.

editing34. The Quick Fix
At this stage, I cut out what needs to be cut and go through everything I highlighted. I do another spell-check and I try to fix the issues I had in my read-through. If I am not too sure about certain things I leave them for now, but keep the notes on them.

5. Off to the beta-readers.
This far more readable version is what I send to my first beta readers. This is where my gut feeling comes in, if I feel like I really need help and advice on this, I just send it to my writing companion so that she can help me out. That’s what I did with my very first novel – and then came another editing stage and then some people who were primary readers. These days I don’t usually feel like that second stage is necessary and if I have other people interested this is when I send it to them for advice.
It helps to let beta readers know what you are looking for – especially if they don’t routinely do this. I usually come up with a list of questions that follows them through the reading process.
The rest, of course, partly depends on what the beta readers say. If their advice coincides with some of my doubts or if their advice spawns awareness of certain issues, this where rewrites come in and I will look again at whether something needs cutting or more explanation etc.

6. The last polish
This is when I look over everything one last time for issues of style and language. I eliminate writing crutches and sentence level repetitions (like describing the protags feelings over something that is obvious etc.). I check over every piece of dialogue, read it out loud, consider whether this is exactly what each individual would say and whether it’s the best version of it. I delete a lot of “suddenlies” and “finalies” and “moments” and “justs”. I look over metaphors and similes, and I smooth out the style across the whole novel.

At this stage, it depends on my mind-set. I am usually impatient, so unless I have some major doubts, I’ll go on to writing a synopsis and a cover letter and see who I can try to sell it to.

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