The Point of Editing
is not only to make your manuscript better.
(Note to clients I am editing right now. This is not about you. This is about me and my hugely messy novel.)
If you saw on Twitter this morning, I asked for opinions about how I should edit the big, messy draft of the novel I’m working on. I’m almost to the end, and I’m avoiding writing The End because I know there is a ton of stuff I need to change in the beginning that will affect the ending (of which I only have a vague idea) and it feels right to fix the front so that I can coast through The Ending as if it were newly poured asphalt.
Or so I hope.
But I’m not sure how I need to do it and I’m partly stalling because I know it’s going to be a lot of work. Should I edit it in the Word doc? Should I read it on my ereader and take notes on paper? Should I print it all out and edit by hand? I’ve been bouncing back and forth between these three options for almost two weeks now. So I tweeted instead of editing this morning, and while I waited for some answers, I got a good idea and proceeded to write 1700 words. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It all serves the end goal. Today, my procrastination worked, in some roundabout way.
I think, as the poll indicates so far, I’m going to edit on paper. But really, none of this has to do with how I’m going to edit this mess. It’s all because I know it’s going to be a lot of work, and it’ll be hard, and it’s making me anxious. Tbh, I have a good idea of what needs to be fixed. It’s just going to be hard.
Notice I didn’t say I was worried about whether it was going to be good or not.
When I finally sit down to actually edit, what I will really be doing is looking for patterns. How many sentences do I start with “so?” Am I bailing out of tense scenes because I think silence is gravitas or am I just chickening out of writing hard things? Have I considered chapter breaks in the slightest at all? Have I described the physical attributes of anything? These are the things I do. These are my habits, according to my previous books and drafts. Because I read and edit for a living (I’m one of those agents who edits clients, too, when needed), I have a lot of practice here. It’s very different, of course, when it’s your own book, but my professional experience has helped me in my personal work.
Editing isn’t just about making your manuscript better, or salable, or best-seller-able, or award winning, or even “good.” Yes, you want to improve your manuscript at every pass. (You should probably take out a lot of adjectives, espeically on your first page.) But learning my own, personal writing habits so I can stop doing the ones that don’t serve my work has had a lasting benefit on my whole writing life. When you think of editing like this, you learn how to stop doing whatever isn’t working, and then you won’t have to edit that out later and your drafts will be cleaner and you’ll be more efficient and who knows what that could lead to? That’s how it’s been for me, at least.
The end goal of editing is not a perfect book. The end product of editing is not a perfect book. The end results of editing are a better book, honed skills, and, hopefully, slightly easier drafting in the future. It’s learning how to be a better writer, not a perfect writer.
I just hope I can remember this when I’m elbow deep in the mess of my own book.
Happy editing, friends. You can share this with someone who’s in the thick of editing hell by just forwarding this email, and maybe it will help. Encourage them to subscribe, too.