I completed the first draft of my latest novel, May Butterflies, earlier this summer. It’s a story I’m a bit wild about, and now I’m slogging through the trenches, doing my least favorite writing task, editing.
For years I hated editing, but I’ve come to enjoy it. I love playing with words and the rhythm they make. I make a game of seeing how many words I can delete without negatively impacting the story. So even though editing is not nearly as fun as creating new prose, it’s still enjoyable.
My process for editing starts by putting the manuscript down for at least a month, usually two to three months, while I work on something else. When editing, I want the story fresh, as if I’m reading it for the first time. It takes time to get that story out of my head.
Next, I read each page, slowly and carefully, three times before going on to the next page. I look for words/sentences/paragraphs to cut, different ways to say the same thing, places I’ve repeated myself (I seem to do that a lot), cut out most words ending in ‘ly’, turn passive verbs to active, and insure I have a good mix of sentence structures and that the prose flows effortlessly. Why read each page three times, you ask? Because it’s amazing how many things stick out on the second and third pass that I gloss over on the first one.
When I finish a scene, I examine the scene as a whole. I actually have a checklist I follow for each scene:
1. What are the emotions the reader should feel? (which is different from what the characters are feeling)
2. Whose scene is it, and what do they want from it?
3. What can you show that is now in dialog?
4. How can you punch up the dialog, give it more attitude!
4. What can you show that is now told?
5. What can you cut, is it all needed? What purpose does it serve?
6. Cut the melodrama, telling internal dialog, metaphors. Just tell the story in plain English.
7. Most importantly: Where is the conflict leading to emotional growth in each scene?
Following this method, I strive to edit six pages per day. The next day, I start out by reading those six pages once more before moving on to the next six pages. When I finish a chapter (usually about 10-15 pages) I have my computer read it back to me. It’s amazing how many errors I catch by having the computer read it. I keep having the computer read it out loud until I can make it through without making any changes (normally 3 to 4 times.)
So for each editing pass, I read each page a minimum of six times, sometimes as many as ten times. Then the process begins again. I put the manuscript away for a month or two, and repeat. I normally make three to four editing passes.