On Editing a Book

Hello ladies and gents! I am waaaay hecka busy today! I planned this post for a little later in the year, but given the timing of things recently, I haven’t had the opportunity to sit down and write new posts. So! For those of you just joining us, I’m Mackenzie –Mac, for short– and I’m a YA writer. My current work in progress (or WIP as it is known in the internet acronym world) is about Death and a coffin-maker; a relationship that has never met.

I began my writing episodes first with my, So You Want to be a Writer? post, and followed it up with On Writing a Book and On Getting to Know Your Characters. Now, the episodes continue!

So, you’ve written a book. Holy cow, congratulations! Pop the champagne (or apple cider, should you prefer. Apple cider is arguably better, anyway.) and celebrate! Seriously. *grabs you by the lapels* Celebrate while you can! Because you’re about to enter into what a friend and I call *cue dramatic music* the editing trenches! Get yourself some cake and put on your favorite cartoons, because ladies and gents, the first thing I recommend doing after celebrating the fact that you finished a book, is TAKE A BREAK.

I’m suggesting this for two reasons.
One, how long did it take you to write that book? Months? Years? If you participate in National Writers’ Month (NanoWriMo) then it took you the whole month of November to finish your novel. For me, it took me about five months to finish The Coffin-maker’s Basement. That’s with me writing every single day, just so I can say that to anyone who thinks they need to hurry up (in which case, never force something, but I’ll touch on that later). Ok, so take however long it was it took you to finish writing the book and double it. It’s safe to assume that’s how long it’s going to take you to edit. I might be over or under-exaggerating, but I feel like that’s a good starting point.
Two, you’re going to want some separation from your book. Taking a break will give you the chance to –in all honesty– forget some things you wrote in your book. I believe that to be a good thing as you’ll get your honest reader’s opinion when you’re reading something for the first time in a long time. I’m not going to suggest how long of a break you should take, I’ll leave that up to you. We’re all different, a week might be long to some people and short to others. I know I told a writer friend of mine that I was taking a three week break between drafts and she felt that was short. So, you get the idea. Take however long a break you want, but I do recommend taking an actual break.

After you’ve taken your break:

Print out your novel.

If you’re able to. If not, export the file to a PDF and save it as Book Title Draft One, or One, or whatever. The idea behind printing and/or duplicating this first draft is so that at any point when you’re editing and you want to remember what it was you said in your first draft (or later drafts as the case may be) you have the opportunity to go back. This makes any changes you have made, less permanent (and therefore, less dire. Trust me, there is nothing worse than believing you had something right the first time, only to find you changed it and don’t know exactly what was written before).

Get that red pen out!

Ready. Set. EDIT! Rewrite whatever doesn’t resonate with you. Take out whatever is unnecessary. Rearrange scenes where it is you think they’re better off. Anything you left for researching later, do that now! I know for my first draft, I left a blank page after or between chapters because I knew I was going to have A LOT to say and change and add. Also, for every draft I printed, my novel as double-spaced. This gave me more room, and if you follow me on Instagram, you know that I use every amount of whitespace when necessary. My biggest tips to other writers when it comes to scenes and details (not scenery, but scenes) are this: Is it necessary? (To the plot, to the character, to that moment? Ideally, you want all information to be pertinent to the scene in which you’re writing it, the character in which it’s directed to, and the plot overall. If it isn’t necessary to that moment, is there a better moment in which it would be necessary?) What is the character trying to say here? (What’s the point to the character saying what it is they’re saying. I find this is especially important in dialogue as you want to have very little back and forth between characters. Each conversation must have a point to it.)

DON’T. RUSH.

Please, don’t. You’re not doing yourself any favors, or your characters any favors. Just go with the flow. Allow whatever it is that needs to come out, to come out. Don’t force anything. Move ahead and come back to it, and remind yourself that this won’t be the last time you edit. It will come out at some point. It’s easier for things to flow, when you’re not flailing about. Like I said, it’s going to take you months to get through the editing process. Earlier, when I said to double the time it took you to write the book to figure out how long it will take you to finish editing, that means it would have taken me ten months to finish editing by myself. As in, before beginning the beta reading process. In other words, when you get other people to edit the book before you do. And that will probably take three months longer than however long it took you to edit simply because you’re dealing with others’ schedules and personalities. Long story short, this process takes time. I finished writing CMB in September, 2016, I began solo-editing that October and finished my solo editing at the end of March, 2017. That’s five-ish months. So it took me (me personally– we all work at our own pace and have different outside responsibilities) the same amount of time to solo edit as it did for me to write the novel. That’s ten months total for the book. Not including the amount of time beta reading took.

Remember why you’re writing this book.

My friend Jenna and I call it the “editing trenches” for a reason. Editing can take it out of a person. You’ll go through the phoenix process that I talked about, and you’ll go through it hard. The downs will be particularly rough but if you can remember why it is you’re telling this story, or why it is you write for that matter, you’ll get through it. Allow yourself to feel down, however. It’s totally normal. I think sweeping that under the rug would just be more exhausting, and you don’t want to do that to yourself. What worked for me was my characters. They came to me because they had something to say, and I was going to help them say it. As best as I could. That’s who I am as a writer; I’m a mediator. My characters tell me their story and I write it down. They have something to say, I help them speak.

Alright my dears. That’s all for this week.

Do well. Do good.

Thanks for reading,

-M

 

I post every other Thursday (that’s, like, twice a month!), to follow, simply click the Follow button on the upper-righthand side. For a consistent look into my writer life, you can follow me on Instagram (linked earlier in the post). For more info on The Coffin-maker’s Basement check out my Instagram or these posts:

A Year in Books: 2017

Pushkin’s The Fisherman and the Golden Fish

Yin Yang Myths Part Three: Life and Death

Yin Yang Myths Part One: Lycoris Radiata

Baba Yaga

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