How I edit my stories
I love hearing about different writers’ processes. I’ve already chatted a bit about how I write a first draft, but this time I want to talk about how I edit my books from unholy first drafts to readable, polished stories. This is just how I do it, so please don’t worry if you work totally differently. If the end result is a book people enjoy, who cares how you get there?
STAGE ONE – TAKE A BREAK
Arguably one of the better stages of editing. This comes off the back of finishing a first draft. I write without looking back, and a break now gives me a chance to distance myself from the story before I dive back into it. The minimum I’d want this to be is a month.
This is a chance for rest, but I find my brain is constantly supplying new ideas and things to check. I’ll think of new ways for the characters to express themselves and themes that I want to strengthen. I usually start a new project during this time, either editing a different story or launching into another first draft.
STAGE TWO – READ IT QUICK
I print it out, grab a notepad and a pink pen (I find it easier to spot pink than any other colour), and read the thing as quickly as possible. I make many notes, but try not to get bogged down correcting grammar or reworking sentences. This is a chance to make sure the story makes sense. Things will probably move around a lot (I use post-it notes and numbering to keep track of everything), chunks will get cut and rewritten, so concentrating on making each sentence shine would be a waste of time at this point.
I try to complete this stage in about a week, since that’s how I’d read any other book. I’m looking at the pace, whether there’s any part of the plot that’s lacking or needs reworking, swapping around chapters, and figuring out characters. I print it out because I find it easier to make notes this way, plus I think reading my stories in as many different ways as possible can only help me spot different things.
STAGE THREE – MAKE THE CHANGES, MAKE IT SHINE
I go right on back to the start, save a new draft on my laptop, and start making all the changes I’ve made on my paper copy. I do this chapter by chapter, making the big sweeping changes first and then zeroing in on sentences. I want each character to sound unique, for the narrative voice to be strong, and to cut out as many errors as possible.
STAGE FOUR – COLLECT ADVICE
The story is usually at a stage now when I don’t feel like I would rather burn it than show it to another human being. I involve a critique partners (you can read about one of mine here), beta readers, and editors (small shout-out for myself – find out more about my services here!) I get as many different eyes on my story as possible.
I tend to start a new draft again at this point and throw all the comments from people into it. Some I’ll agree with straight away – they might be grammar points or just really good suggestions – but some I will want to mull over for a while. Someone doesn’t get a joke a character makes, but is that because it’s confusing or they just aren’t my target audience? Someone consistently critiques the setting, but do they just prefer a different writing style? These are the choices I have to make.
But I am in control of my story. I can have a reader urging me to change something but if it doesn’t feel right I won’t. I will note down their comment and if I find two or three people are saying the same thing, I will think about how to make that element work better.
REPEAT STAGES ONE TO FOUR
Writing a book is hard work! It takes a lot of time and effort. I edit, and then edit again and again and again. My first drafts are totally crap, so I have a lot of work to do in the editing stages. A LOT of work.
AND SEND IT OUT
I am in the lovely position now that at this stage I get to send my story over to my agent, Rachel Mann. Before, this was the point when I would start to query (I’ve written a bit about my experience of submitting to agents here)
I will then go back and edit some more. And more. Forever and ever. The end.