I never edited a single thing until I got to college.
My first paper, ripe with wanderlust and naïvety and expectation, came back to me bleeding with professor notes and a big fat F on the top of the page.
I struggled through refinement during the next four years, but still resisted the process of going back through my work to find the best word and the perfect phrase. I don't think I ever really showed anyone anything until I published EVERY SHATTERED THING the first time around — and even then, it wasn't for editing purposes.
I became a different writer between then and now. I changed my routine, wanting to make sure book two started off right. The editing of my first book was such a sore spot — and also such an incredible learning experience — the last few months before the re-release were amazing creatively and I realized just how electric the editing process could be if you allowed it.
So when I started writing in March, I immediately gathered people around me.
And the editing began.
Here's the process I used.
1. Critique Partners
Critique partners typically receive your manuscript as you write. They comment on any stray plot holes, character flaws, shoddy dialogue, and weak sauce writing. These are people you trust and who can offer you feedback without you freaking out and quitting altogether. They also need to be people who really love your writing and typically encourage the heck out of you, because of the above reason.
Depending on the level of feedback you're wanting, you can also call these people alpha readers — those who simply read for surface level responses. Did it work for them? Are they wanting more? Is it engaging? Does it entertain them? Are the hooked?
I loved my group of people — about seven of them — because it provided a built in accountability system. I knew if I hadn't sent them any new words within a few days I would be getting texts, emails, phone calls and arm punches (they were gentle).
Note: I encourage you to keep this group as small as possible. I used seven, and that's abnormally high. I also trusted each of these people implicitly with the plot and my story. These were people already invested in what happened to Stephanie, and they're also some of my closest friends and fellow arena dwellers. I can't stress it enough: choose wisely.
2. Beta Readers
Beta readers get the entire manuscript once you're finished. These are the next layer of editing: does your story flow? Does chapter one move well into chapter two and does this scene make sense moving into the next? Critique partners get the initial microscopic view and can help you with plotting, stickiness of characterization and finishing.
Beta readers help you catch the big content issues before you send it off to an editor.
For instance, a beta reader for SOMEWHERE BETWEEN WATER & SKY caught a huge inconsistency at the end of my book. She made complete sense when she gave me the feedback, and I immediately went to revise the issue. I was able to fix it before sending it to my editor in June.
You want your beta readers to be cheerleaders, but also willing to tell you the truth. I always give a caveat in my emails to betas: I love you. Because I love you, I want to know the truth. Please tell me if there are any cheese ball scenes in this manuscript.
And then if they respond, I listen.
DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.
By this point, you've been through your book a few times. You know the dialogue, your favorite scenes, the moments resonating with other readers (because you've let people in to the process from the beginning).
Do not stop there.
Find someone you connect with — someone who you can trust with your words (because let's face it, this is a big deal). Your editor can be a friend, but if all you're getting is "gosh, this is really amazing! I can't find anything! It'll be a bestseller!" Drop 'em like it's hot and move on.
I promise you there are mistakes you do not want the public at large to see within your precious story. I promise you there are entire sentences, phrases, paragraphs, pages and maybe even chapters that you end up deleting because you realize it doesn't serve the overall plot. Remember: good editors challenge you to become an even better writer. Ask around—who do other indie authors suggest? (My editor is awesome and I love her and you can find her here) Once you find a few who interest you, start early and inquire about their availability.
And then send your manuscript to them by the deadline.
After all of the stages, you still have one more: that moment you get your edits back and it's just you and the pages all over again.
I approach this layer carefully.
I consider all of the books I've read that year. What are the ones I remember? What are the ones I grimaced while reading because the dialogue felt forced or I couldn't believe the story?
How am I wanting my reader to feel?
Hopefully, I've considered all of these questions while writing, but this is the stage I bring them back to my attention. I go with my gut. If I pause at a response a character makes, I look at it carefully. Does it sound true? Manufactured? Wordy? Why did I hesitate? Same with scenes, descriptions, mannerisms and plot points.
Also: FOLLOW YOUR EDITOR'S SUGGESTIONS. Go back over your manuscript twice with your editor's notes right beside you. Did you miss anything? Was there a change you made in the last edits that created an awkward turn of phrase or stilted transition within the scene? Go back through and be relentless. Consider what makes a book great in your eyes. Those favorites you always return to when you're needing inspiration and a reminder of why you love the written word.
What is it about those books?
Chase after it.
And then, when you're done, rest. Because before you know it, people — other people, people you don't even know — will be reading your words.
Need more inspiration? Introducing Hustle & Flow: a weekly letter with artistic visioning for the everyday creative. I would love it if you signed up, and I won't ever spam you. Promise.
You'll get hints and anecdotes about getting unstuck and living your most artistic life within the midst of your every day poetics. AND, if you sign up during October, you'll get some special extras dealing with indie-publishing.