Editing and re-writing is a prospect few, if any, writers truly enjoy, but it’s a necessary part of being a writer, and it’s something every agent or publisher will expect you to do before you send your work to them. Even those writers who ‘edit as they go’ will still need to edit again. And again.
A well-edited, well-written book does not come from a first draft. It doesn’t come from the second. Try 10th draft, or more. By the end of the editing process, you may well hate your book with the same passion you loved it with when you first wrote it. Many writers confess that, once it’s published, they never look at their book again. This process goes a long way to explaining why.
Here are some of my personal tips for tackling the daunting task of editing.
1 Wait a while
You need fresh eyes to edit your own work. Close the file, date it if necessary, and don’t open it again for at least 6 weeks. Some writers give it a year!
2 Make a second draft to-do-list
You should start this when you begin writing the book, or at least when you realise you’ve forgotten something important, or an idea occurs to you that needs to fit in earlier in the story. Write it on your to-do list using notepad or an actual erm… notepad, and add it into existing or new scenes when you edit. Don’t forget, adding a new twist or component to your story may affect subsequent details and events. Be sure to change the rest of the book to fall in line with the new changes.
3 Make a list of no-no words or phrases
There are some words and phrases which serve little purpose other than raise your word count. By using the ‘find’ feature on your word processor, you can pinpoint each instance of it and delete, replace with a better word, or rewrite your sentence to eliminate it.
Do a similar thing for adverbs. Track them down and eliminate by typing ‘ly’ into the find box and doing a search. Adverbs are a modern writer’s downfall and hugely out of fashion at the moment. The rule tends to be one per page, if at all.
Find ‘weak’ words. Vague, non-specific words which indicate lazy writing. Use specific words if possible. Instead of ‘tree’ for instance, use a species (oak, ash, etc). Words like quite and almost are valueless. Take them out for more assertive writing and bigger impact.
Avoid passive voice: ‘She felt sickened…’, for instance, sounds more immediate if you replace it with the actual emotion ‘Sickened, she…’
Here’s my list of no-no words and phrases taken from my editing notes for ‘Blightspawn’. I used ‘find’ for each and every one of these, and considered their validity in every instance they cropped up.
That, thought, some, even, at all, probably, somehow, was, fact, I felt, I saw, I looked, I could, I realised, I should, the fact that, as far as, of the, seemed, almost, obviously, any, suddenly, quite, very, only, to be, gave a, ly, on the, as if, in the direction, a bit, simply, had been.
There are probably words and phrases you over use, personally. One of mine was to use ‘in the direction of’ instead of something like ‘towards’. Make your own list and use this method to reduce their frequency. In particular, unusual words will stick in a reader’s mind more strikingly each time they’re used.
4 Dead End Streets
It’s easy to get carried away with ideas. Sometimes they pay off, sometimes they don’t. If an idea doesn’t work, and the sub-plot you had in mind fizzles into nothing, then you need to cut it out of the book at the point just before it is introduced.
5 Turf out the Freeloaders
Books have the ability to turn out differently than you expect. You may have planned a character, plotted their arc, fleshed them out, then… They don’t fit in. Or they somehow fall by the wayside as more interesting, possibly unplanned characters, take centre stage. Time to be brutal. There’s no room in your book for freeloaders. Turf them out or do something else with them. If they’re taking up space but giving no value, they don’t belong in your book.
There’s a part two coming next week with more tips on editing your work.