There’s a temptation, once you’ve written those 80,000 words (or however long you make it), to declare that it’s finished. After all, the words are down on the page, right? It’s full-length, it’s got chapters and everything, so it’s good to go! Sadly, this isn’t the case… in fact, you’re far from finished.
Learning from Mistakes
Here’s where I have to make a confession. When I was 20 and just starting out as a writer, I wrote a full-length novel (that wasn’t the confession, by the way). The full-length novel, in case you were wondering, was a stinker. I cannot emphasise how terrible it was. But me, in my naivety, thought it was pretty good. So good, in fact, that it didn’t need any editing at all.
Thankfully, I had the sense not to send it out to anyone. I recently uncovered this book, gathering dust in my attic, and was astounded at how awful it was – not only in terms of writing style, but also because of the sheer volume of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Wow – it really did suck!
There’s definitely a lesson here – once you’ve finished that first draft, recognise that it’s a work in progress, not a finished product.
The Editing Process – Some Ideas
From talking to other writers, I’ve since learned that there’s no right way to edit – you have to find a method that works for you. However, if you’re struggling with editing, here are a few techniques you can try.
- The print out. Yes, I know, it’s a bit of a waste of paper (sorry, environment!). But the fact remains, it’s so much easier to spot errors when they’re on an A4 sheet, rather than on the screen. You can also make notes, highlight whole areas that need reworking, and slash great big red pen marks through the sections that are atrocious… which is oddly satisfying!
- The multiple edit. Some writers only do a couple of edits before sending their manuscripts out. Others do as many as fifteen or twenty. I’m somewhere in between on this one (with my current book, I’m on about the fifth edit at the moment, with a few more to go). I find it useful to focus on a particular element with each round of editing. For example:
- Round One – I focus on readability – does it flow well? Are there any awkward parts that need rewriting or removing? Are there any whopping plot holes?
- Round Two – I pick up all the major spelling / grammar / punctuation mistakes.
- Round Three – I examine the characters and dialogue, checking that they’re rounded and believable.
- And so on… working on the specific elements you’re concerned about.
- The beta readers. Beta readers are seriously your best friend when you’re editing. (Massive thanks to my sister, my father, Becky, Nick and Lindsey for ploughing through my most recent effort! I am so, so grateful to you.). Choose a range of people – those who you think will enjoy the type of book you’ve written, and those who might not. Ask them for brutal honesty too; compliments are lovely, but they won’t help you to improve the book in any way. A friend of mine also shared a top tip with me recently – provide them with a ‘beta reader sheet’ – with a list of things you’d like them to focus on when reading it.
- The friends. Share your storyline with others, and if possible, read them snippets of your work (writing groups are ace for this). You’ll get some great feedback, and possibly some ideas for new approaches.
Does it End There?
Ha! It certainly doesn’t. If you manage to get a literary agent or publisher to take you on, you’ll then need to undertake even more editing to get the book right.
At times, this can feel overwhelming, particularly if you need to make major changes. However, remember that it’s in your best interests to do the job well. If people love your book, they’ll recommend it to friends. If they think it’s rubbish… they won’t!
Over the years, I’ve taught myself to not only value the editing process, but to actually enjoy it. Writing a first draft is a bit like finding a diamond in the ground; then the editing part is all about polishing and refining it to make it sparkle. That’s our job, fellow writers… to make those words glitter!
Dr Ribero’s Agency of the Supernatural – The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost, is available to buy – you can do so here (US) or here (UK). And the second in the series, The Case of the Deadly Doppelganger, will be coming out in February 2018 - it's also available to pre-order here (US) or here (UK).