Learning to love the edit

Editing is bad for your health. No, seriously. I just finished some pretty intensive revisions on a manuscript, and promptly took to my bed for most of the next week, wheezing and spluttering like an eighteenth century consumptive.

I’m still not 100%, but I’m ready to get back to work – even if my mind is still stuck in edit mode.

For an unpublished author, I’ve done a lot of edits over the last few years; on full manuscripts or partials, for my own satisfaction, or at agents’ requests. These revisions scored me my first agent, if not my first sale. And as I’ve waded through these changes and pages scribbled over with red pen, something strange happened.

I learned to love the edit.

And I want you to love it, too. I mean, if first draft is where we pour our heart out onto the page, the revision process is where we shape our dreams into a story that can connect with a reader, can change a reader’s mood, or feelings, or even their perspective on life.

As with all things writing, I imagine revising and editing varies hugely from writer to writer, depending on their own, particular writing process.  For myself, I tend to write straight through a full first draft, before undertaking any editing. I plan the book in full before I start… but I can’t guarantee I always follow the plan. Or, you know, ever.

Before I sit down to revise a book, I try to make sure I have certain things in preparation:

  1. Time away from the manuscript – even if it’s only a week or so since I finished the first draft, I do find I need some distance. If I’ve managed to work on something else in the meantime, even better.
  2. Revision notes. Depending on where I am in the whole procedure, these could be my own thoughts about what I screwed up the first time round, notes from a beta reader on what isn’t working for her, or notes from an agent or editor on what they’d like changed before they’ll consider it again. Either way, it’s basically a list of what sucks about the book as it stands, and my thoughts on how I’m going to fix it.
  3. A printed copy of the manuscript. I do edit on the screen, but usually only on the very last pass before kicking the book out the door again. For full, in depth edits, I need the printed word, and the ability to scribble on it. Often in coffee shops. I find lattes very helpful to the editing process.
  4. A whiteboard, or notebook, on which I can scribble every random thought that comes to me as I work through the manuscript, about what I need to fix at a later point in the book. I try to cross things off as I deal with them, but I always end up with a few things left over that need sorting at the end – that’s usually the part I do straight onto the screen.

I tend to do a write in edit on the manuscript itself, then a type in edit during which I second guess a lot of the stuff from the write in edit, then change my mind again. I am not a lot of fun to be around during this procedure.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I just finished a pretty comprehensive edit of a book after a revise and resubmit letter from an agent. I’ve sent it off to a beta reader, and will be going through it again before it goes back to the agent. It is, only partly due to the agent’s suggestions, a completely different book in many ways, while (hopefully) still holding onto everything that made the agent like it in the first place. I, incidentally, love the new book so very much more.

And that’s what revising or editing is about to me. The finished product is a book I am prouder of, happier with, and excited to send back out into the harsh world of publishing. Editing a book, making it so much better than it was – that makes me feel like a real writer.

So, what about you? How do you tackle the dreaded revision process? I love trying new techniques for editing, and I think I learn something new about what works for me with every book. Can’t wait to hear your methods – after all, I’ve got another round of edits coming up!

6 thoughts on “Learning to love the edit

  1. Kim Bowman says:

    I’m with you on the editing. It’s brings out the best parts of your books. Great post.

  2. Janice Seagraves says:

    Good for you, Sophie.

    Writing isn’t just writing, it’s rewriting.

    I took editpalooza through savvy. One of the hardest thing we did was go through our ms, chapter by chapter, writing down the scenes. I found this helped me see the bigger picture and what scenes had to be taken out. It was also suggested that we have a deleted scenes file, so if we decided the ms worked better with that scene in, we’d still have it. It also made taking a scene out pain free.

    Janice~

    • Sophie Pembroke says:

      I’m sad I missed Editpalooza – it sounded like great fun.

      When I’m writing my revision notes, I have to go through my scene cards to figure out what stays and what has no conflict/point/character development. And it’s always very hard, during the write in edit, to cross out whole pages of text.

      On the other hand, I love those pages when it comes to the type in! It’s the ones with tiny scribble to type up covering every free inch that I hate…

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