The Many Ways I Edit My Manuscripts, part 2

In my last post, I shared how I make lists in preparation for editing. Now I’ll share my process of editing a manuscript. I think most of this process would apply whether or not you’re an author publisher like me. The number of editing rounds may vary with each book, but this is my general process.

editingAs I said before, I do some editing while I’m writing the first draft. Actually, since I edit sentences and paragraphs immediately after writing them and then again as I reread the previous session’s writing in preparation to continue, I do a fair bit of micro-editing during first draft stage.

My next round is a macro-edit done within my writing software (Scrivener). As I read through the entire manuscript, I’m looking for plot holes and continuity issues. I also make notes on anything I need to verify with research. At this point, I’m checking off some items on the editing lists I mentioned last time. And because I write the dialogue for a scene first, I’m also checking to see if I have enough actions and descriptions. (Though it’s almost certain my beta readers will point out I need more.)

Of course, to try to fool my eyes into thinking I’m reading these words for the first time, I need to take a break. Usually, at this stage, I send my file to my alpha reader. Yes, I know, the true alpha is me, so maybe I should say my alpha-beta reader. While I wait for her feedback, I try to busy myself with writing something else or read a book or two.

After I receive the alpha-beta feedback, I edit and revise accordingly. My next step is to print out the manuscript, double-spaced so there’s room to make notes and corrections. Once again, I read from beginning to end, using both red pencil and highlighters during this edit. I also consult my editing lists. Then I transfer this editing to my computer file.

Then it’s time to send the file to my beta readers. Again trying to fool my eyes, I also send the file to my Kindle and read it that way. And then with the beta feedback and any notes I’ve made during my digital read, I go through the manuscript making edits and revisions.

During these editing rounds, I keep up a dialogue on the changes with my alpha-beta reader who, in effect, acts as my editor. If you can afford to hire a professional editor—or two—do so. You may want to enlist a content editor as well as a copyeditor (they serve different purposes), but my budget does not allow for that. However, I’m very lucky to have accomplished writer friends to call upon for these services.

Now, I want to tell you about an editing method I’d seen recommended many times, but I tried for the first time with my latest manuscript. For my final round of editing, I read backwards. I started at the end and read each sentence one by one. I couldn’t believe the typos, missing punctuation, and just plain clumsy syntax I found—some of which, I’m sure, I introduced during my editing rounds.

For me, reading backwards gave me the “freshest eyes” of all. Reading that way wouldn’t serve to find continuity errors, of course, but as a copyedit, it works great. If you’ve never tried it, I recommend you do.

I hope you’re enjoying life!

Linda

The Many Ways I Edit My Manuscripts, part 1

“Yay! Now I get to edit.” That’s my first reaction when finishing a first draft. After several rounds of editing, though, I’m a little less enthusiastic. But I trudge on and, eventually, end up with a polished gem from the lump of rock I started with.

editormarksWell, since I edit as I write, maybe lump of rock is a bit harsh. I know some writing gurus advise not to edit as you go, but I naturally write lean, and I’m too much a perfectionist to write past a clunker sentence or flabby paragraph. Why not fix what I already know needs fixing? That’s not to say I agonize over things like comma placement during first draft. That comes later.

If you’re a lightning fast first-drafter who stops for nothing, that’s fantastic. Many of your editing methods may vary from mine—and that’s perfectly fine. We should each work the way that best suits us. But in case I do something you don’t but might want to try, I’ll blog about my editing process in the next couple of posts.

As I’m writing the first draft, I keep lists to help me in editing. The main ones are:

  1. Things to Check
  2. Style Sheet

Things to Check:

This list is where I keep track of the punctuation and grammar errors I’m prone to make in every first draft, such as overuse of certain words (and, but, so, it, etc.) as well as words I frequently misuse (it’s for its, anymore for any more, etc.)

And of course, this list is where I remind myself to check to see if I’ve properly used commas. Most comma rules are static, but I vary a few depending on the genre I’m writing.

In my latest manuscript, I couldn’t remember, and got tired of looking up, the Alt key code to type the accented “e” in fiancée, so I added that to my list. (If you’re wondering, it’s alt+130)

I also list the spellings I use for sounds (hmm, uh-huh, hunh, etc.) and slang or curse words to make sure they’re consistent throughout the manuscript.

Usually, this list has several sections. One might be a list of words to work into the manuscript. Since the male lead in my latest book is British (and I’m not), I made a list of terms and phrases he might use. And since the female lead is only twenty-three (a bit younger than I am J ) I listed slang she might use.

And since I usually write the dialogue for a scene first, I need reminders to check for setting details.

After an editing round or revision, I might have to recheck some of these things, though I try to be very careful not to introduce new errors while I’m editing.

Style Sheet:

This is where I keep track of writing and formatting styles particular to the current manuscript. There’s some overlap from the Things to Check list, such as sounds, slang, and curse word spellings.

Style choices are things such as whether I’ll write out the time of day—eight in the morning, not 8 a.m. Also, how I’ll format certain things such as inner monologue, asides, imagined dialogue, and remembered dialogue. If I break a “rule” I want to do it consistently.

This is the list for unusual/unfamiliar spellings of character or place names and also for jargon. For some genres this list could grow quite long.

Other lists common to most writers are ones for characters and settings. These are handy not only in writing the first draft … yes, sometimes by chapter six, I’ve forgotten what I named a minor character in chapter one. But, of course, editing usually means revising, adding scenes and even whole chapters, so I want to make sure I’ve got the details right. I could run searches of the manuscript for these, but often it’s quicker to consult one of my lists. When it’s time to edit, I print out these lists and keep them handy.

Next time, I’ll share the various ways I read a manuscript for editing, including the very helpful one I recently tried for the first time.

Linda

Formula Writing

In certain genres, some successful authors appear to write to a formula. Certain, some, appear … could that sentence be any vaguer? But it also contains the word successful, though success can also be interpreted in many ways. In this case, I mean those authors sell a lot of books.

formula_m

Part of our goal as authors is to create fans of our work, readers who anticipate and buy our next books. So I imagine those successful authors who write to a formula are not selling each of their books to a new and separate set of readers. No, they have fans who buy all of their books and happily read them.

I’ve heard it said that some of these books are so formulaic that little more than the character names and the locations are changed. I expect that’s exaggeration, but I’m not going to waste my time searching for such books to find out. That’s not the kind of formula I’m seeking for my own writing, anyway.

The basic structure that most novels adhere to is a sort of formula. That structure is intuitive to many writers. Not to me. Knowing that I’m going to have to push, pull, squeeze, or stretch the story I’m writing into that 3-act (or whatever) structure haunts me during the first draft.

I probably shouldn’t be thinking about structure during first drafting, but I can’t help it. I haven’t even settled on an estimated word count for the WIP I’m currently working on. Will it be a novella or novel? That’s one of the reasons I love writing in Scrivener. I go ahead and write the disconnected scenes when they come to me and keep them in a designated folder. When I reach the point where they fit in, I’ll drag them into place.

But I write soooo slowly. I follow a few indie publishing blogs and forums and most of the authors hoping to establish their name (build a fan base), talk about releasing new books every six months—or less. I’ve been working steadily on this WIP for four months and have only 35,000 words written. At that rate, figuring in the writing, editing, revising time, I’ll be lucky to have this book completed in ten months. Add to that a couple of months to prepare for publishing and my start to finish schedule is one year.

I have no ‘day job’ or children under my care, so I can’t complain that I don’t have enough time to write. I do have a health problem that sets me back, but usually only for a day or three at a time. So why am I not more productive?

That’s why I’m wondering about formulas. But I think confidence in my storytelling ability is the formula I’m seeking. If I had that, I’d spend less time stuttering and stammering along in getting that first draft done. And I guess that confidence only comes with time and experience. Which means, I should get back to work. Now.

I wish for all you writers a river of words this week. For you non-writers, I wish for you a week full of whatever you need most.

Linda

Did I Really Write That?

Once upon a time, I decided to finally keep the promise I’d made to myself many times in my life: I’d write a novel. The year was 1999. At that time, most of the books I read were written by Stephen King or Maeve Binchy, so I guess it’s logical that I set out to write a character-driven paranormal story. I started writing in September and finished in the spring of 2000.

Somewhere during those months, I joined RWA (Romance Writers of America) not because I was writing a romance, but because they were the only writing group I could find in my area. After that I did start calling it a paranormal romance and even entered the first three chapters in a national contest. The judges’ comments were unanimous: This is not a romance!

Okay then. I revised it to straight horror … or paranormal … or whatever you call a novel about reincarnation and an evil spirit.

And now, fourteen years later, I’m revising that novel again. In the intervening years, I pulled up that file and played at revision, but never got very far before real life called me away. So, when I pulled it up again this year, the beginning chapters seemed in pretty good shape. I even blogged at the beginning of this month that I’d looked through it and found the writing quality not as bad as I’d feared.

I just didn’t look far enough or read closely enough.

About halfway through, I hit the chapters that hadn’t been touched since 2000. Oh my, was I in love with dialogue tags back then. I used them for about sixty percent of the lines … in a conversation between only two people! And some of those tags were “telling” ones: “he growled” or “he huffed” or “she begged.” But even when I used plain old said, often I tacked on an adverb: “he said angrily” or “she said brightly” instead of making the dialogue and action do the work.

But the worst error, the one that really made me cringe, is in a love scene. No, I didn’t use silly euphemisms for body parts, though I did make the mistake of having the main character, a construction worker, use unlikely flowery language. But most egregious is the messy point of view. Though I’ve used three viewpoints in this novel, those are confined to one per scene or chapter (third person limited.) But in this love scene, the POV ping pongs from his to hers throughout (omniscient.)

Fortunately, I’d found only an occasional POV slip in all the previous chapters. But this scene … wow! Now, I have to decide from which character’s viewpoint the scene is best told and get to editing. The most rewarding thing about this revision is catching these mistakes. I’ve learned a lot about the craft in fourteen years … and I’m still learning.

When you look back at your older work, whatever that is, do you see progress—or were you great from the beginning?

 

Linda

Oh What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

Look before you leap is excellent advice—if you take it. I’m embarrassed to say how many times I haven’t. I’m thankful my leaps are figurative. In my last post, I mentioned that I’d started a book in a genre I’ve never written before. I’ve read it, though probably not as much as I should have before attempting to write it. So guess what I’m doing now? (Don’t bother checking my I Read page or my Goodreads currently reading shelf; I’m being secretive.)

xIn short, I’m looking at a lot more pre-writing preparation for this book than I’d anticipated. But that’s all right. Creating new brain cells is good. Besides, I said I this was my year of new, didn’t I? And I said I needed to get more organized. Maybe it’s time to use new writing tools. I tried Scrivener for Windows back when they were beta testing it, but I was in the middle of writing a book and the learning curve seemed a time suck. After they ended the beta, I never bought the real version. Do any of you use it?

My current method of research and writing involves creating dozens of Word files—research notes, character profiles, scene lists, timelines, etc., as well as the actual manuscript file. I save those files into a folder with the working title of the book, but still I need to open each file individually. So, as I work, I might have five or six files open in Word at once. I think Scrivener streamlines that, but I’d have to learn how.

I might even do the unthinkable—properly outline this novel. (I can’t believe I typed that!) Can a pantser turn plotter?

I will probably divide my writing time by working on this secret book part of the day and my next WF novel during the other part. I’ve already cut down on social media participation. And I guess it’s a good thing personal email, which requires a thoughtful reply, rarely drops into my inbox. So I have time; I just need to use it more wisely than ever before.

I might even have to cut back to watching only one episode of X-Files before bed, so I can start rising earlier. The truth is out there.

Linda