“First you have nothing, and then, astonishingly, after ripping out your brain and your heart and betraying your friends and ex-lovers and dreaming like a zombie over the page till you can’t see or hear or smell or taste, you have something.”
Let’s talk about a little thing called editing. I’m not going to get into hiring an editor. Sure, you should do that, but you shouldn’t use that as a way out of editing your own work. You should polish your work as much as you possibly can before you pay someone else to do it. It’ll save you embarrassment as well as money. Maybe you don’t care about embarrassment, but I’ll never be convinced you don’t care about money.
So, what can you expect from the editing process, otherwise known as those countless hours where a writer screams obscurities, throws pens across the room, and cries when the highlighter runs dry?
Heartache. You can expect a metric ton of that shit.
You birthed those little word babies and now you have to snuff them out. It’s painful. That sentence you spent three days, fourteen hours, and twenty-six minutes obsessing over? It’s gotta go. Imagine erasing so many sentences they become missing paragraphs.
Hell, sometimes even whole entire chapters get scrapped. (This happened in NMC’s sequel not long ago. I wrote an entire chapter and then cut it a few days later. It hurt.) But, nobody needed to know how Brie felt while walking around Hever Castle, and I got insanely carried away… because it’s my favorite castle I’ve visited inside my head.
Let me outline my editing process for you. You’ll need a large cup of coffee or tea, and a picture of a funny cat.
Seriously, don’t forget the cat. It’ll help cheer you up when you consider jumping out of a window. In fact, I recommend two separate pictures of funny cats.
If possible, print your draft. It’s a vastly different experience reading something on a screen versus reading something on a page.
Have a highlighter ready. Have two or three, actually. In different colors. Assign each color a different function. Make yourself a color code because you will forget those functions.
Blue – Cut this completely.
Green – Reword this.
Pink – Research the hell out of this.
Yellow – This doesn’t set well, come back and find out why.
Or something along those lines. You get the drift, anyway.
Read it out loud. There are mistakes your ears will pick up on that your eyes will never see. This happens most often in dialogue. If you don’t ask yourself a thousand times, “Who actually talks that way?” while you’re reading your manuscript, then you need to share it with someone else, because I’m positive they will. You should probably be prepared for a lot of green marks on your page. Seriously. People don’t talk like that.
Get help. I don’t care how many times you read it, read it out loud, or scribble across it, you will never, ever catch everything. Ask someone else to have a look-see. Bake them a muffin as a thank you. Or buy it. You’re editing, you don’t have time to bake muffins.
These magical people you need in your life are called Beta Readers, or Test Readers. They’re your tag team partners in finding blaring errors, but mostly they’re there to help you find plotholes. They should be willing to chip away at your soul and tell you what sucks just as easily as they’ll build you up and tell you what’s awesome. You need them. Be nice to them. They’re good people.
Get more help. You didn’t think one round of help would be enough, did you? Of course not. You’re in this soul-crushing thing until the very end. I have personally fallen in love with a program that works right inside Microsoft Word called ProWritingAid. So, you’ve used Grammarly and been burned by how absolutely awful it is. I understand. We’ve all been there.
ProWritingAid is nothing like that. It’s actually handy and useful and doesn’t suck. It looks for things like:
-Consistency (Are you using American and British English?)
-Repeated Sentence Starts
-Abstract and Vague Words
-A bazillion other things.
It never makes a single change in your document unless you give it the go-ahead first.
The only complaint I have about ProWritingAid is that if you attempt to use it on a large document it may cause Word to freeze up. This is easily fixed by saving each chapter individually and editing one at a time.
You can check it out for free on their website. (Let me insert this here: This is not a sponsored recommendation, these thoughts and opinions are my own. I am a happy customer and that is all.)
Reprint your manuscript. Hopefully you’ve clung to your first draft. Compare. See how much better off your word babies are now.
Now, brace for it. You may need to trade your coffee or tea for a scotch now.
Repeat every single step.
Hopefully you still want to write and you don’t hate me. Too much.