Editing Made Easier

First, it’s been WAY TOO LONG since I last wrote a blog post. One of my goals for 2017 is to remedy that. I’m shooting for one post a month. The themes will be similar to years’ past: writing, romance, and self-care of writers. Here goes. Let’s start with editing.

While I wouldn’t say I’m a slow writer, I definitely fear that I’m a slow editor. One of my goals is to get faster at writing and editing my novels. The first book I edited, Kissed at Midnight, went through multiple drafts. I wanted to take a big picture approach: developmental edits first, then line edits, then proofreading. And, while I did that, I still went through my story pretty much in chronological scene order. It took forever. I  won NaNoWriMo 2013 with it. While the characters were from my first book, which I’d finished in late August 2013, I didn’t start writing KaM until November 1st. I finished edits well enough to begin querying June 2015. So, just over a year and a half.

To be fair, it was only the second novel I’d written. But, still: 19 months is too long.

In one of the (fabulous) Romance Writer Chats on twitter (Sunday evenings at 5pm EST, use #RWChat to tag posts), a friend of mine suggested I try Rachel Aaron’s editing plan from her book 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More. Aaron approaches both writing and editing with similar plans: creating scene lists, creating a timeline, making to do lists, and approaching editing from big picture issues to small ones. Go read this book. It’s one of those craft books you can pick up over and over and learn new things.

So, for my New Adult romance, Trouble With Me, I (mostly) used Aaron’s suggestions. It helped enormously. First, creating a scene list helped organize my wordcount and whether I was hitting main turning points at the right places. I’d used an Excel file like this for KaM, but the scene list also delved into what was going on in each scene, not just raw wordcount. It took more time to put this together, but it was invaluable to use as a longer outline for edits.

Similarly, I made a timeline. I included events that happened before the story in order to be clear about my set up. For instance, Savannah, my heroine, goes through a breakup. I used the timeline to pinpoint when that occurred and who ended the relationship. It sounds like a small detail, but having it in a spreadsheet and out of my head helped me look at how quickly (and slowly) events in my story occurred. Most of the timeline is for events that are in scenes. But, it was also helpful to include rows for events that happened off-scene but affected the plot. For example, I listed an off-scene conversation between two minor characters where one shares important information about my heroine. Later, one of the minor characters confronts her with what she learned. It sounds so simple and banal, but really putting that event into my timeline caused a little bit of a headache. I had to figure out why one character kept a secret for two days. It didn’t need to be shown, but it helped me see the big picture of what was going on in between the actual scenes.

Creating the scene list and timeline also meant that I noticed issues that needed to be fixed. I stapled four sheets of paper together and kept a running list at my side, writing in bullet-pointed items. This is a depressing stage of editing. Even as you make progress, you can add more and more items. However, again, it’s nice to get them out of your head and on a concrete (if long!) list. Later, as I worked through this giant punch-list of “Things to Fix” I used a red pen to cross of items that were fixed.

Aaron then recommends organizing the to do list from big to small and numbering them. I numbered the first fifteen items and worked on them in that order. After that, I just chugged through the list, slowly working through character arcs and other issues I needed to finesse. I also created a list of crutch words (my favs are just and still) as well as some words I worried I used too often in this particular story. Here’s how much I love just: in a 300 page story, I used it 352 times. O.O That’s since fixed. Ahem.

After that, I had more line editing to wrap up, but this editing process was much faster than my previous one.  I also feel more confident that big issues, including continuity and subplots, make sense across the story. I finished the first draft of TWM in early November 2016. I began edits of the whole draft in December. In fact, this strategy was so helpful, I might go back over (my already edited) KaM, and create the scene list and timeline just to make sure it all makes sense.

This is the part where you talk me out of it.

Le sigh. Editing is never truly done, but at least I’ve gotten faster at it. 🙂

What are your favorite tips for editing? Biggest pitfalls? And, of course, tell me your favorite crutch words.

Happy writing and editing.

 

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