Week 22: The Editing Trenches–Everything I’ve Learned So Far.

One of the questions I hear authors get asked a lot is “would you ever publish something you wrote in your teens” and they immediately laugh nervously with a unanimous “No!”

Well… I wrote Fire’s Hope when I was 13…

In the high of writing a complete story for the first time and not just a little story that went nowhere, I immediately started thinking about publishing. At 13. I did a little research, tried to figure out how much editing would cost, “hired” a friend to edit for me, and I went about my writerly life very self-important. Obviously, that got me nowhere!

The first draft of Fire’s Hope is so cringe worthy it hid in my basement among a stack of papers somehow evading being burned for 8 long years. I thought about editing. I told myself to edit. But I ended up just continuing the story and writing the first book almost out of relevance. But I told myself, I couldn’t get published unless I published FH. I would not go out of order like Narnia.

Everything I use to Edit

Top left to right: Daily Planner, “handmade” notebook (I can add more paper if I need to), Highlighter, mechanical pencil, blue pen, red pen, The Emotion Thesaurus, my journal, and my Philippians 1:6 pen.

Bottom Left to right: super cringe-worthy Draft 1, the marked up Draft 2, the clean and pretty draft 3. (Draft 3 is already completely obsolete and draft 4 is still digital)

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Why edit on paper?

I personally find it easier to read through my manuscript when I don’t get distracted by MS Word features. It costs me $15 at my local Staples to print my whole book, plus whatever I paid for the binder. I’m addicted to cute binders, and as you can probably tell that red binder has been through a lot.

Here’s just what it looks like while I’m editing. I take notes on the backside of every page of what needs to change in a scene developmentally, on the front side of the page I highlight and markup, and I always keep my notebook handy to keep my editing guidelines fresh at hand. I also write “Done” at the top of every page that I implemented these edits into my digital document.

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The Rewrite and self edit

Over the course of the last 8 years I slowly edited FH, at one point resolving to rewrite it. Going so far as writing a new outline and creating a more or less good story, but it was the summer of 2017 that I finally buckled down and finished this rewrite and printed the second draft. Now an adult who knew how to properly research, I was naively determined to get this dang thing published by… hmm… Christmas. That also didn’t happen, because I’m an idiot.

Can you tell everything about editing is calling yourself an idiot? Yeah it gets worse before it gets better, trust me.

I hired another friend to edit for me, going through the whole book one chapter at a time in a sort of developmental edit. Looking for scenes that needed to go, or be completely rewritten, and every typo or long sentence we could fix. At about new years I added up how much longer it would take and it landed on Valentine’s day. So I set my goals on finishing by then!

Finding my editor

In the mean time I was searching for a freelance editor. I ended up going with an editor suggested to me by a local author Caryn Moya Block who I met through my library writer group. I talked to this editor, got to know her a little, and got a sample. I’ve gotten a few editing samples from various freelance editors and every single time it came back I got totally stressed out seeing all that red and all those notes. It scared me how much work I needed to do, but when I got this sample back, I had a lot of peace. Yes, there was a lot of red, but I saw my own shortcomings, I knew how I could improve, and I already generally knew the things that needed to be fixed. I told my editor I had a good feeling.

All editors are going to have different processes and packages, so you might not get the same package I got. We communicated about what the manuscript needed, she customized a little for my situation, and I said when I expected to have the manuscript ready, Valentine’s Day, which it ended up being a little later than that.

This superwoman I had discovered on the internet, did the first read of my book in FIVE DAYS!!!!!! I am so thankful for her! She’s awesome!

First Read and Editorial Letter

So for the last two weeks, I went through the suggestions she made to do my best to follow her guidelines. When your editor sends you back an inked manuscript, they’ll let you know what needs to be worked on the most and send you an editorial letter. This letter is huge and terrifying and basically only says negative things but you’ve gotta get your head in gear for editing. “You are not perfect. Everything can be improved. You are not a failure because there are mistakes.” I’m a big fan of keeping personal motivation notes in my journal, prewritten on days I know I’m going to be stressed. So when I get to those day, I can see me cheering me on from the past.

Read the editorial letter regularly through the editing process. I copied it into a document and took notes on it. Keeping these suggestions fresh in my mind helped me keep an eye out for my core issues.

It’s hard editing when you’re so close to the story. I definitely miss a lot of typos because my brain skims over them when I’m reading. I know what I meant when I wrote that sentence, but wow… that’s not what it was supposed to say at all! Getting yourself into the mindset of the editorial letter will help you a lot!

My biggest issue is POV.

I am a serial headhopper! and I do it a lot! There were a few sections were every other paragraph was in a new pov! I am legend! Watch me as I confuse your brain, making you, the reader, simultaneously aware of the thoughts of ten different characters!

So every time I even slightly slipped out of POV, my editor made a note. I asked myself at the start of every chapter and section, “Whose pov is this? And how do I keep it there?”

I learned POV can be changed three ways, a new chapter, a paragraph break, or with a baton relay. The third one is really frowned upon, but again I’m a serial headhopper so it’s going to happen, I better learn how to do it right and to not confuse the reader.

I write in third-person (sorta)limited which gives me the benefit of slipping between characters without a huge amount of confusion because instead of seeing “I” as in first person you see the characters name. And, my characters do have a level of mutual telepathy between each other, so those who are close can feel each other’s thoughts and emotions to some degree. However, this does not give me an excuse to flip-flop willy-nilly between heads.

The Red Ink

Red is my favorite color so I didn’t think the color red would stick out to me because it marked up all my flaws. What ended up happening in Microsoft Word, my editor’s changes were in red, and the deeper I went into the manuscript the less red I saw because she didn’t edit all the recurring mistakes, she expected me to find those. (again referencing the letter to keep my mindset in a place where I could catch them). In MS word the changes I made were in blue. I was surprised because apparently I know nothing about the program I’ve been writing in all my life, and second because blue made me less anxious about my mistakes, it was relaxing to me, and rather than pointing out my shortcomings it showed what I had improved.

I read that study that says red ink on your test grades makes you feel like a failure, and I thought it was a load of bull. While it might be ridiculous for some people, it’s certainly not for me.

Also those motivational phrases I put in my journal, I write those in blue too.

Dialogue tags and Adverbs

I’m fully aware that when I’m in the zone writing, I don’t pay attention to what dialogue tags and adverbs I’m overusing. My focus is on story not technicality, so going back over all my writing I have an over-abundance of. “He muttered softly” and “she gasped over-zealously”

My editor turned my whole idea of stylistic writing upside down when she told me. just write “he said”

Writer brain: But you’re supposed to avoid “said” it’s boring! Pinterest told me so! use “muttered, mused, demanded, blurted, cried, screamed, exclaimed, stated, remarked,”

Editor: “Said, Asked, Replied, muttered.” that’s it.

I had to recognize my overuse of dialogue tags, and her challenge made me monitor how many times I used a tag, and if I needed it at all. I had to train my brain not to rely on dialogue tags to end a thought. A period can do that too.

Also I’m addicted -ly adverbs. I guess she didn’t realize my name is an -ly word (Emily). She told me that if an adverb is attached to a dialogue tag, cut it!

Trimming

The last thing I want to touch on is novel length. Most of my novels go from 200K to 280k words, and my first seven are all 100k-200k. I want to write for a YA crowd and my editor told me my 100k words is way too long for a debut novel. I had to trim.

But my baby! My pride! my hefty word count! my -ly words! I need those!

No you don’t!

The average YA novel goes around 50k to 80k. and FH was 100k. My editor asked me, is everything necessary? Are there scenes you can get rid of, words you can cut? As I intend to go a self-publishing route I won’t have publishers telling me I need to cut over half my book, but I do want my book to be acceptable among a wide genre of ya books. Also my CP told me the longest Harry Potter book is 257k words. That’s a problem because my longest book is 300k+. I have a lot of trimming before then! But I know there are things I can let go of.

The Big Edit

My editor and I are currently on the second read of Fire’s Hope, and because she’s superwoman she told me she’ll have it back in a week. I’m very nervous for this wave of edits, but I’m ready for it. I’ve come this far!

My steps so far:

  1. First draft
  2. rewrites
  3. Critique Partners
  4. self-edit
  5. first read (light edit)
  6. second read (big edit)

My three drafts. yes, these are all the same book.

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Fun facts: the first draft is printed with two pages on each sheet of paper, so even thought it looks the thinnest, it’s the longest.

the second draft is the thickest because it has a ton of notes, and one reprint where I scrapped the back half and started over.

the third draft is the shortest of all, and I’m only proud of that because I thought trimming would hurt my heart but it’s really not as painful to trim as I thought.

I hope this has been helpful. Happy editing!

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