Editing: the ‘bread’ in the Writer’s Meal
You start your meal with an appetizer, then a salad, then the main course. In the main course, most of the time, you’ll find bread beside your meat and vegetables, soaking up the juices until it’s soggy and not near as delicious (for me, anyway). Well, what you don’t know about that piece of bread is that it’s important. It’s not the most flavorful thing you’ll eat, but you do need to eat it. It helps you choke down the rest of your food and it fills your stomach just enough, however, you still won’t turn down dessert.
Welcome to the last entry of the Writer’s Meal series.
I’m going to have posts under the series, don’t worry. But I won’t be talking about food. Let’s get to it, then.
I know how easy it is to finish writing, feel the elation that comes with a finished manuscript, and want to send it off and have it return to you, perfect and ready for publication. I’m a writer, too. I understand.
But think of it this way. You have a janitor, but does that mean you should throw your trash on the ground? They’ll pick it up anyway, so why not? We know how to do our jobs, but it isn’t our job to write your story. If you expect us to pick the correct verb for you each time, format every sentence, pick the direction your character should take because you choose three…that’s not our job. We’re here to catch what you miss. If we’re catching what you could have found yourself, it will take a lot more time to find the other things.
When Do I Edit the Manuscript?
You’ve heard it many times, I’m sure. Don’t look back. Write until you’re done. It’s something I agree with for two reasons:
- You can’t always press “pause” on an idea.
- If you go back, you might discourage yourself.
Those are basic reasons, but they have bullets in fine print that you can’t see. But, when you stop, rewind, and edit before you continue, you might mess up the idea you had. You’ll forget where you wanted to go. Even worse, you might get lost in your own questions. You’ll wonder if you answered something already or if you should fix how a question was presented. You’ll think too much, and that doesn’t always benefit your story. I’m sure you have your own reasons, but it’s best not to edit a manuscript until it’s complete, or until your inspiration has run out, in which case editing is a good way to backtrack and see where you need to go next.
How Do I Begin Editing My Book?
Don’t fight the fact that if you want it to be your best, even before an editor, you’ll read it through more than once. I’m an editor, and I read my own work over seven times, including when my inspiration runs dry and I backtrack, edit, then continue. When you’re ready to edit, there is a non-specific order you can follow, any of which will help you on your self-editing journey.
Rest Your Work
When you finish writing, your brain is spinning with all the details of your story. Take a break. Set it down. Don’t look at it for a few weeks or even a couple months. If you want, use that moment to pick up beta readers. Find a few you know will read it through, then wait for them to finish and give you their notes so you know a few things, already, that need to be addressed when you do return to edit.
Chop Out Fillers
When you’re editing, remember that you are the writer. If you see “very,” “a lot,” “something,” or even any passive verbs, see if you can chop them. Words that don’t specify or don’t show you how something happens/looks or what exactly something is/does, you find yourself telling. I’m not “very tired,” I’m “exhausted.” See how they sound the same, but “exhausted” allows more imagery. It’s a stronger word. I don’t want “something.” I want a breakfast taco on a corn tortilla with eggs, potato, and three extra slices of bacon. By that sentence, you know I like meat and you can get an idea of my culture. Breakfast tacos on corn tortillas mean healthy. Here in Texas they do. So chop fillers, make it sound better, and get rid of passive verbs. Here’s an article that might help with passive voice.
Do Not Double Space After Sentences
Take these out. There’s nothing more tedious than your editor removing all your spaces because you habitually insert them. Typewriters needed these. Printed books and e-books do not.
Your editor should not have to correct “pikle” to “pickle.” We have more important things to address. So, while editing, address the red, squiggly underlined words and phrases. Take advantage of spell check. It’s not there to look annoying on a page. We (editors) love our clients, so love us back, please? 🙂
Use Your Senses
When you come upon a scene, use all your senses. Can you see it, smell it, hear it, taste it, feel it? Are you moved or hurt? Angered or joyous? Each scene should help the story move forward. Show, don’t tell. Now, you don’t have to taste, smell, hear, feel, and see every scene you write, but try to use at least two. If you taste, you’ll likely smell and feel. If you hear, you’ll probably see, maybe feel…you get the point.
Do You Need a Scene?
Every scene, as I said above, needs to mean something. If you removed it, what would it remove from the story? Is there another way to get your point across, or is that the best you have? Scenes are important to a story and although some are easy fillers or moments where “they need a normal moment,” each scene needs more purpose. If you’re on a fantasy adventure, but you want your character to use the bathroom because they haven’t, use it to your advantage. Will they find a creature that helps them on the journey? Or meet their doom because they strayed onto a path where their urine attracted a hungry beast?
No matter the scene, it can have a purpose, and it should. Otherwise, you take your reader on a tangent that will bore them and result in setting the book down. Then, they’ll get busy and won’t finish because they were able to find that stopping point. You don’t want that. It has happened to me, as a reader.
Better Characters, Better Plot, Better Read
Make sure you know who your characters are. Will they say and do what you ask of them, or should you alter a moment and give them more range to roam?
Don’t give yourself exceptions. If you have areas where your plot falls apart or is missing something, fix it. Remember, it’s your story, so you want to look at every part you write and figure out, for yourself, what needs to be there or what can change. If your plot involves an insecure, shy male character, it won’t make sense that he suddenly asks a girl on a date. He needs a reason…motivation. Sometimes, forming your outline and looking at it will help find larger plot holes/character holes, so try that. Here’s an article on outlines.
When Do I Search For An Editor?
When you’re done editing or you think your book is ready for it, start your search for an editor. I’ll gladly speak to you about the editing process, but I want you to understand one thing, first: not every editor is right for your project. For example, I would not be a good choice for an erotica novel. I don’t enjoy reading it. Why would you want an editor who doesn’t love the book as much as you? Your book deserves an editor who shares your vision.
When you search for an editor, look for a former client with a published book. Read it if you want or look at reviews. Look at the reviews on the editor’s website. Look for rates, details, genre preferences, credibility, and anything you can find that will make you feel better about your prospective editor.
Consider prices. I said it twice, I know, but prices mean something. You don’t always get what you pay for. I’ve heard of expensive editors who don’t do a great job and I’ve heard of affordable editors who do a fantastic job. Naturally, this isn’t the case for all editors. That’s why you have to do your research. You’re paying someone to handle your work. Don’t take it lightly. You want them to do a great job, so look for someone you think will handle it well. If they’re more expensive, budget. This book is your baby. Invest in your baby.
How Do I Know I’m Done Editing?
You’re done editing when you don’t know what you’re doing. Don’t edit the same thing a thousand times. When you read and you don’t know if you have plot holes, you’re done. When you stare at the same sentence forever because you don’t know whether it should stay, you’re done.
Everything can be improved, but it’s not up to you to make it perfect. Why? Because you’re the writer. It’s impossible to see your own mistakes…all of them, anyway. You can read through it once or twice and think you’ve done the best you can do. Let it rest. Leave it alone. Don’t doubt yourself. Congratulate yourself, because you ate your bread. Now, enjoy your dessert.
P.S. As some of you know, I have lower-than-industry-standard prices. The reason for this is because I believe in credibility, and my academic credibility isn’t complete. I have experience, but I don’t have my pretty bachelor’s degree. I’ll have it in October 2016, which isn’t long in the academic world. This means I will raise my prices. If you know you’ll need an editor and wish to talk to me about editing, you can take advantage of my current prices before they increase. I’m saying this now since it’s relevant.