The other day I asked you all what topic you would most like me to cover, and editing rose to the top, so…I decided to post a month-long series on this topic—mainly because my editing process is as complicated as my writing process, and I want to get as in-depth as possible. So you can expect two more posts after this one.
I want to start off by saying that my editing process varies per project, just like my writing does, but I will try to cover various types to hopefully give you all some ideas. But editing is a lot like writing. We all have different paths, and you have to find what works for you.
Today, I’m concentrating on how my editing process starts during my writing process.
I’m already editing—or at least prepping my editing—while writing the first draft.
Why? Because writing and editing go hand in hand, and if you keep them in mind as you go, it will save you time and energy and pain in the long run.
1. Try to Finish First, Edit Later
You might have an outline, you might not. That’s okay! Either way, try to finish as much of your first draft as possible before you begin editing. Why? Because you will learn unexpected aspects about your story as you write, and those little surprises—as awesome as they are—can change a lot about your novel as a whole. It’s better to know as much as possible before you start changing things. That way, you won’t get lost in various drafts or ideas or shifts in plans. Just jot down a note and move on. That being said, I used to be one of those writers who would immediately go back and edit previous chapters if a huge twist surprised me (and changed the first few chapters). Honestly, I still do this to some extent, but I’ve tried to hold myself back from doing it too much. Why? Because that issue might change again and again and again. Why waste time rewriting sections when you might have to rewrite them again after that? Recently, for instance, one of my characters began as a five-year-old but then morphed to an eight-year-old later on in the story. Instead of going back and rewriting everything now, I jotted down a note, because, let’s be real, his age could change again. This brings me to my notes…
2. Take Notes – and I mean a lot of notes
Before you ever start your novel, even if you’re a panster, take notes on what you know, and continue to take notes as you learn more. This is one of the reasons I love Scrivener. I can update individual chapter notes, settings, and character profiles while I write. Here is a basic list of editing notes I keep while writing the first draft:
- Overall Editing Notes: This can be large-scale edits or simple facts, like my character’s age changing. This is also where I include notes that I feel like I will forget. In my latest manuscript, for instance, my top editing note is “Make sure Meri doesn’t call herself a princess.” Why? Because her language doesn’t have a word for it, but English obviously does, so I keep slipping on that description. These are notes that tend to affect the story as a whole.
- World Building Notes: Right now, I’m working on my first historical novel, but I find historical novels need just as much note taking as my science fiction and fantasy. Your world building doesn’t necessarily need to make sense in your first draft, but jot down what you figure out as you go. That way, you can adjust these rules and details after you finish your first draft, and you have a clear list to work off of. This will help you make sure that it makes sense.
- Chapter Notes: As I write, I might realize that Chapter Two needs to be Chapter Ten, so I will go to that chapter and write down notes regarding that decision. This will help me restructure my outline later on. Chapter Notes might also includes notes for that particular chapter. For example, on Chapter Three in my WIP I put a note at the top to mention the goddess of war and disease, because I realized later on that Chapter Three was the perfect opportunity to explain this aspect of the world building, but I didn’t know that at the time of writing Chapter Three and I currently don’t have time to find the exact placement right now. I will find it later on or decide to move it again as I continue to write. Having that note, either way, will remind me that it is both missing from the story and could be placed there.
- Character Notes: As I learn about my characters, I write down facts, especially ones that surprise me. This can be anything, including what clothes they’re wearing or how they’ve grown emotionally over their lifespan. I write down almost everything, including obvious notes (like hair and eye color) and specific notes (like they broke their arm when they were three).
I know this might seem like a lot of notes, but you never know how long it will take you to write a book…and you might be close to it now, but you will forget things. Having a reference guide to your story will help you transition into editing faster and more efficiently. You can also use it for sequels! You will love having that reference guide, and it will save you a lot of searching time later.
3. Once You Complete Your First Draft
Organize all of your notes. This means writing down the current outline you have and what outline you’re planning for your second draft. I tend to start with my Overall Editing Notes and then go through my Chapter Notes, then my Character Notes, and make a plan. At this point, I probably have a solid idea of where I want to go and what I need to change, but put some distance between your first draft and the editing stage. You’d be amazed at how much clearer your issues will become when you let the project go for a week or two (or a month or two). Go draft up a different project while you wait, but don’t jump into editing immediately. Breathe. Celebrate that first draft. You deserve it.
Now you’re ready to continue!
Next Monday, I’ll cover what editing my first draft is like, along with some tips to help you during your writing journey.