How to (Try to) Edit a Book #LikeABoss

am writing

Hello everyone! I think we’re technically in the middle of another camp nano? (hard to keep track to be honest- what is time anymore…) And I’m currently completely failing trying to do a readthrough of one of my WIPs, so I figured now was the perfect time to pass on my (*ahem*) wisdom to other people 😉

I know people have been dying to get some good tips from me over the years… And, well, these may not be that good, but they’re technically tips 😉 I will admit I’m also drawing on my subjective experience (my openings tend to start out pretty weak, so I put a lot of focus on those). Nonetheless, I think other writers could probably distil something of use from this anyway… or else get drunk on my stupidity 😉

Apart from the occasional episodes of weeping, which I’ve left out to save time, this is pretty much my process:

witches over cauldron hocus pocus

Step 1: Pour blood, sweat, tears into a cauldron, bring to a boil, gently simmer for a few years, then pull your deformed baby manuscript out AKA WRITE THE DAMN FIRST DRAFT!

narnia cupboard

Step 2: Shove this little beastie out of sight- it’s not ready to see the light of day! It may protest and bang on the floorboards for attention, but don’t worry, this isn’t book abuse (that comes later). This is just a temporary arrangement for both your sakes.

hug a book

Step 3: Bring your book baby out again after a few weeks/months (when its incessant nagging for attention finally gets on your last nerve). Rock it back and forth in your arms. Try crooning a lullaby in its ear as you open that first page for a quick reread…

monster book of monsters

Step 4: NOPE! That was a bad idea! You were completely wrong to describe this as a baby; IT’S A FRICKIN DEMON!!

don't panic

 

Step 5: Okay don’t panic (and don’t stab it through the heart with a stake and sense this evil creature back to whence it came… as tempting as that is, even baby monsters deserve life). As much as you might wish you’d aborted this project earlier and daydream of other projects, this is a living breathing thing making guttural noises in your arms and you’ve got to take some responsibility. You grit your teeth and make your biggest (human) sacrifice, rereading it from beginning to end and making notes of all the (terrible, terrible) flaws.

really long list 2

Step 6: Well, that wasn’t as bad as you thought… it was worse. The list of problems is as long as an immortal life and you think this thing might be possessed by the devil… but as they always say, the first draft is the hardest part, right?!

drum fingers

Step 7: At this point you *drum* your pen on the desk, tapping out solutions to all the problems (you created) in morse code. For some reason, this is soothing.

think pen write

Step 8: Miraculously, you begin to answer the questions you posed in your notes and now, look at that, you’re brainstorming!

grave robbing

Step 9: Alrighty then, it’s time to slay the beast resurrect this manuscript from the depths of hell. You plan to begin on the biggest issues (no point trying to cover up the boils when the heart of the story is on the outside of the body and oozing blood). *Crack your knuckles* and get to work!

chaos

Step 10: Skip around the manuscript at random picking out flaws, then switch to chronological editing intermittently (this is the part of the editing process I like to call THE CHAOS). Also, work on that horrible opening!

focus

Step 11: Okay *focus* now- you can get through the other major edits.

read-fast

Step 12: Reconfigure some major plot points, focusing on consistent character arcs and smoothing out the narrative (and other writerly things).

squirrel attention span

Step 13: Get distracted by some simple issue with the prose (that you really shouldn’t be worrying about at this stage).

highlighters

Step 14: Just keep nit-picking and tell yourself typos are obviously the biggest issue you have to deal with (it may not be true, but it’s comforting).

monkey typewriter

Step 15: Time to tinker with that opening again!

lord of the rings writing gif

Step 16: While you’re at it, work on the ending.

solve crime

Step 17: Find that flaw in the middle that’s been bugging you and brainstorm a million ways to change it.

writing

Step 18: Rewrite entire chapters

delete cybermen

Step 19: DELETE! DELETE!!

not a great plan

Step 20: Realise you’ve made a TERRIBLE MISTAKE. Go back to original plan and try and bring the old version back to life!

hide monster

Step 21: Abandon dead idea and quit while you’re ahead! Time to shove this beastly being (that’s looking more deformed than ever) back where no one can find it!!! Quick!!

Congratulations- your book is now a corpse of its former self you have successfully edited your book!

Now just wait a few months until you have to do this all again!

65 thoughts on “How to (Try to) Edit a Book #LikeABoss

  1. As someone who’s currently struggling with editing a full-length novel for the first time, I completely relate. And I can confirm that the first draft somehow transforms from a perfect baby into a demon in between writing it and rereading it?? Not sure how that happens! Ahaha I’ve been completely rewriting so many chapters – maybe it would be more fun if I started saying “DELETE” in a cyberman voice every time I had to do that! Thanks for all the tips 😉

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  2. I can agree with all of these. When I first started writing, I thought the biggest challenge was finishing writing it. Then I learned about editing, multiple drafts, and the other 100% of the work involved. I really dislike editing, but have come to realize it’s a vital part of the finished product and go through multiple revisions in a process of progressive refinement. It’s painful, I still hate it and by the time I’ve finished working through my process, I pretty much don’t ever want to see the book again lol But the feeling when you’re finally ready to hit the go button are amazing, and so you put your nose back on the grindstone and do it all again 🙂

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  3. Bwahahahahahahaha! Yes but you can also save time if you launch your baby into a friend’s arms and wait for him to rock said baby and get a closer look at what ails him LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hahaha that is a very good idea!! I definitely pass my baby around to other people to see what they think! (it’s helpful, provided they’re not the type of friend that says “all babies are beautiful” and hands them back 😉 )

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  4. I love your instructions. My biggest problem with my writing is seeing how horrible it is and finding a way to fix things. I try to share my work with people to help me edit and revise. I’m not afraid to have someone say the draft sort of sucks.

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  5. Oh editing – yeuch! I feel like the easiest part of writing is the actual writing. I’m a planner though so do the whole ‘outline’ thing and feel (just… seriously just) that one day I might, maybe, have outlining down to an okish point. Editing though? That’s a dark and mystical art.

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  6. Oh my gosh, I posted once on Twitter before I deleted my account that I literally don’t know how to edit my own writing. People gave me advice like “start slow” or crap about commas, but I don’t even know what to DOOO. It’s a 100% failure of my high school education, we spent so much time writing AP essays analyzing one page of a novel that we didn’t learn to edit. How do I know if something isn’t good? How do I fix it? I guess I need to take a creative writing class to learn that skill?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What are you talking about, you are a fine writer?

      Based on my experience as a writing tutor at college, people are only taught to edit for grammar and spelling, not for content. So they do a first draft not realizing it’s a discovery draft, and then they want to polish all the wordies because they are terrified of the RED PEN, not realizing that they need to be developing their MATERIAL and any grammar tweaks they make at this point will, ideally, become irrelevant later.

      But based on your posts, you seem just fine at developing your material.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Haha ok well I’d start with the fact that you definitely don’t start with commas (or anything small really) the first piece of advice (when it comes to writing novels) is to usually start with a developmental edit (ie read back your work and see the big things that need to change- it’s kind of like plotting/planning in reverse- you see what ideas/plot points are wrong. I guess in a lot of ways it’s like being a really critical reader, which is something we all do quite a bit 😉)

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  7. Ohhh myyyy. Well, I guess I do all this stuff, but I do it iteratively, while writing the “first” draft.

    Have you seen that meme “Four Stages of Writing, As Illustrated by Jack Sparrow”? They are: drafting, re-reading first draft, editing, drinking.

    Also, I am confused about this NaNo thing. I have never done one, but I thought they always took place during the month of November? And isn’t this July?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah I understand that- I do tend to do a lot of editing while I’m doing the “first” draft as well tbf 😉

      haha I haven’t actually, but that sounds apt! 😉

      Oh there’s different Nanos (should’ve explained in the post, I guess I’m just used to it now). Nanowrimo is in November (with the official goal being to write 50000 words) whereas Camp Nano is in April and July- where you can set your own goals (I find them useful sometimes to try and set more writing goals/put extra pressure on myself 😉 )

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  8. I am so bad for editing as I go! This camp nano I forced myself to only write new things, no changing old chapters until the whole thing was done and I was shocked that I actually hit 50000 words 😂😂 who knew I could be so productive

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  9. I loved this post ! It made me smile hard….and the gifs match perfectly and are so relevant……I just joined the book community 2 moths ago and I was not aware of camp nano….but it does sound productive….also Editing is just worst….I am like the draft is finally over…it was so hard to write ….and then I am reminded oh nooooo I have editing left to do….this post sums up my thoughts perfectly 😂

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