I have been extremely busy recently launching my debut novel; however, I have wanted to issue another blog post for a while on editing.
Editing your book is a Glorious Nightmare
I read a lot about the editing process before actually going through it and I’m still tied up in knots about the whole endeavor. The editing process becomes an endless game of fixing mistakes, reworking passage after passage, measuring the whole matter into a completed work. Right or wrongfully, it does descend into an endless stream of nitpicking and eventually as the author you have to let it go. You must commit to the finished product and it feels really good to say, “it’s done,” and that’s when the real terror sets in.
Now that I have released it, I’m terrified of what I missed. To be fair this is not a result of the editing but the result of so many things that have to be done to finish and release your book. It’s an incredible juggling act. And doing it all for the first time is close to non-stop stress.
My debut has gone through many changes, drafts, and iterations. I finished 1.0 the day before Thanksgiving 2020 with multiple chapters in need of complete reworking and a few new chapters to be inserted. Still, I felt it was Draft 1.0 because it was a completed story, just not the one I wanted to tell quite yet. At its best, that’s what editing is; it is the process of getting at the heart of your story.
I heavily revised the manuscript for 2 weeks and sent it to beta readers. In some of my research I found the suggestion that beta readers come after everything is complete & just before you release the book.That sounds insane to me. EARLY READERS ARE INVALUABLE. The last pass thru should be the proofreader and in my case my wonder wife.
After my beta readers gave me feedback, (thank you, you brave Souls) I went through another round of heavy revisions. Fixing plot holes, though there weren’t many and fixing or sharpening characters and atmosphere. With version 3.0 ready, off to the editor it went.
My editor did 2 passes. A developmental edit followed by more revisions and a final line edit. At version 5.0 I ordered a paperback proof copy and handed it over to my wife.
That’s when the real revisions began.
My wife is an avid reader but not for my genre. Also, she has training in theater, play writing, theory and criticism. So, she had a very unique eye, but more than that she knows me better than anyone and she also pulls no punches. She can read something I wrote and realize what I mean to say but haven’t actually written and she can point those out.
Together we worked through every inch of the book. In particular she dissected and rebuilt some of my most dialogue heavy scenes. Scenes with multiple characters in a room, where plot and characterization are so heavily weighted. Never asking me to remove and delete anything, only sharpen and organize and improve the flow.
In the end, the entire editing process took as long as the writing of the book. I did take a few breaks from the material to re-approach it with a fresh mind, and I do think that is essential. If for no other reason, it helps you add tiny tweaks that have huge impacts to the final project. Tweaks that clean and expand the plot.
I’m not sure I would change anything except for my expectations. No matter what you do there will be errors. Even massively successful authors issue books with typos. For me the most important thing was not the typos but the feel and story. Getting that right takes effort. I tried to keep in mind Bob Dylan when editing. For those that don’t know Dylan is notorious for recording most of his albums with minimal to no editing or overdubs. Preferring to get the organic live performance on tape. The take away for me is that the heart of the piece can not be created in the editing process, it either exists or it doesn’t. While music and writing are different mediums, I decided that the editing process could be closer to the level adjustments on a recording to get the sound right. With slight variations you can punctuate the right sound or feel. Together the right levels reveal the truth and help express the heart of the matter. Editing your book shouldn’t be a bunch of overdubs that shoehorn stagnant sections that steal the life of the piece. Editing should let your novel breathe. My final piece of advice is to edit, tinker, tweak, delete and message your manuscript as needed, but in the end let your novel breathe.