My Writing Process-Part 5: Editing and Polishing

My Process Editing and PolishingWe’ve reached the final post of my writing process series: editing and polishing. ICYMI: in this series, I break down my writing process and share what I’ve found works best for me in the hopes that some of my process might help you too! (Missed the first four parts? Find them here: Part 1 – Brainstorming, Part 2 – Outlining, Part 3 – Drafting, Part 4 – Revision.)

If I’ve reached the editing and polishing stage in the process, I’m feeling pretty good about the book. I feel like the story is working, there aren’t any more glaring problems or inconsistencies to tend to, and my book is almost ready for an agent or editor. But before I turn it over to anyone, I want to make sure the project is as shiny and polished as I can get it on my own. Here’s how I approach this final stage.

Critical read

Most of this part of the process happens during one or two critical reads of the book. Mistakes jump out more to me when the book is printed out, so I print a copy of my draft, put it in a binder and go over it with a green pen. In the previous reads, I typically make notes in the margins or circle/point out problems to consider later. This is the only stage where I write the changes right into the book. This is largely because in the previous drafts, those changes require more thought and planning. But at this point, the corrections are a lot more obvious and it’s easy enough just to note them without having to pause my read.

Typically, I’ll read through the draft looking for a handful of elements that I’ll talk about in the next few points. I make note of the changes, then go through my document and input those changes into the computer. This also gives me the chance to double check the corrections as I enter them.

Check all previous changes

One of the biggest things I pay attention to this round is that all of the previous changes I made in the story. I want to be sure they fit into the story seamlessly and don’t require any additional attention. If it turns out I missed something big, then I’ll make note of it and revise like I do in the previous stages. If it’s a more minor change (like adding or revising a sentence to a paragraph), I’ll likely write the change in the margin just like the other changes at this point in the process.

Check on the clarity of sentences/ideas

Up until now, I haven’t paid too much attention to my writing on a sentence level. My priority has been the story. After all, it doesn’t make much sense to worry about the quality of my sentences when there’s a good chance I’m going to have to rewrite most of them. But now that the story is set, I want to make sure all of my sentences are as clear and concise as they can be. I’m also checking to make sure the ideas I’m trying to express are coming through. I consider the editing phase to be when I start looking at things on a sentence and language level.

Vary language

This is a big one for me towards the end of the process. Similar to my sentences, I’m not all that concerned about my language choices until I reach this stage. I will often lean on the simplest or most common words to get my point across just to get the story down as quickly as possible. But at this point, I want to make sure I’m using a wide variety of words and actions.

If I start to notice words, phrases, or actions that I’m using way too much through the whole book, I make note of them on a separate sheet of paper and do a search for them on the computer after I finish my read through. Then I can see exactly how many times I’m using the word/phrase/action and how close together the repetition is occurring. If I’m using the word/phase/action as frequently as I suspected, I’ll brainstorm a list of alternatives then go back through the document and vary the repetitions as need.

Check grammar and typos

I do my best to catch as many grammar errors and typos as I can before I turn my book into anyone. It’s also worth noting that some grammar errors and typos are expected by agents and editors. They know writers are human and probably won’t catch everything. But It doesn’t look good if a manuscript is riddled with careless errors that are hard to maneuver around. I read the book once or twice and do my best to catch as much as I can, but I try not to obsess. You should absolutely do your best to be as thorough as possible when you’re editing, but  I don’t think it’s good to hold a book back just because I might have missed something. It keep you from reaching your goals, but errors like this can always be corrected down the line.

Pay extra attention to my most common errors

While I’m editing for grammar and typos, I try to keep an extra special eye out for my personal most common errors. For example, I’m known to either repeat or skip words, or sometimes use the wrong homophone. Since I know these are areas of concern for me, I try to slow down and really look at what I’ve written. A lot of times these mistakes are hard for me to pick up on because my brain seems to know what I meant, and I don’t always register what’s on the page. I’ve found giving myself plenty of time and reading slowly can be beneficial with this. It helps me pay more attention to what I actually wrote, instead of what I meant to write.

One last read from critique partners and myself

Before I really declare a book “done” I have my critique group, who has read every draft, sign off on the final version. I also have a couple of readers who are particularly good at catching grammar, typos, and my most common errors read it over. This is helpful because not only do I get to pass off a more polished draft, but I get a final fresh perspective, which is so valuable at this stage. If these readers have any other bigger notes, I do my best to incorporate them, then (depending on how much I changed) give it one final read.

Send it out

Once I feel like I have the book in the best possible shape I can get it in, I send it out. Before I had an agent, this is when I started querying. Now it goes right to my agent. For more on how to tell when your book is done, check out this post!

I hope this helps you with your own editing and polishing!

This is also the end of My Writing Process Series. I hope I shared something that helps you build your own process!

Now it’s your turn: How do you edit and polish your novels? Do you have any editing tricks to share? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Stop Editing While You Write: 5 Great Writing Tips

Stop Editing While You WriteThe mantra for every writer in the first or early drafting stages should be, “I’ll fix it later.”  It can be a challenge to keep that in mind, but it’s SO important. If you’re editing while you write, you’re ultimately getting in your own way. It’s hard to edit a book in progress because you don’t really know what you have yet. You won’t know until you finish your draft. Every time you stop writing to edit, you’re putting yourself farther from the finish line.

For the purposes of this post, I’m considering “editing” to mean both fixing language/grammar/sentence structure and more substantial plot changes. Basically, anything that you might stop writing to fix.

Here are five tips to help you stop editing while you write:

1) Make a list of problems

This is something I rely heavily on. In the past, one of my biggest excuses to stop writing and edit was, “I need to fix it before I forget.” But every time I went back to fix something it kept me from moving forward. Instead, I keep a running list of problems so I know what I need to check in on later. I keep bigger, overarching issues in a page on my notebook and more scene or chapter specific issues in the notes section in Scrivener. (If you’re in Word, the comments feature can also help with this.) This way I only stop long enough to jot down some notes, then I get right back to my word count.

2) For big changes, pretend you already made them and keep writing

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You’re moving through your books, hitting your word count, then out of the blue, you have a revelation about your project. And it’s a MAJOR revelation. One that completely changes the direction of your story. Since this revelation is so big, it would be easy to think you need to stop writing, go back, and put the changes in before continuing. But you don’t. You need to keep moving forward. Like the point above, all you have to do is take a time out and make notes about the changes you want to make. Then you keep writing as if you’ve already made them. Save changing previous writing for after you’ve finished drafting. If you don’t, it can become a domino effect. Once you make one big change, it won’t be long until you start making others. Keep your eyes on the prize and get to the old stuff later!

3) Remind yourself that it’s supposed to be bad

It’s amazing what changing your way of thinking can do for your writing. I think one reason a lot of writers have a hard time not editing is that we get too focused on the end result. When a book’s in its early stages, it is at its worst, so it can be easy to get hung up on how bad it is. One idea that really helps me manage this is to remember that it’s supposed to be bad right now. It’s not called the writing “process” just because it sounds good. It’s actually a process. Your work needs to be bad before it can be good. So, if you’re in your first or second draft and your book is a hot mess/bad/the-worst-thing-ever-written, then CONGRATULATIONS! You’re doing a good job!! Try to remember that!

Once I got used to the idea that in early drafting bad writing=a good job, it became a lot easier to accept and move forward. For more tips on this subject area, I have a whole post on embracing imperfection in your writing.

4) Write each day’s work in a separate document

Or, you can do each chapter/scene if you’d think that’d be best. The ultimate goal here is to put less of your work on your screen at once. There are two ways this can help.

First, sometimes it can be easier to fall into editing when you get stuck drafting. And then you might think, “Well, let me go fix some of the old stuff, so at least I’m doing something.” And the next thing you know, you’re editing everything and not moving your project forward. (Or maybe this is just me?) As much as this may feel like progress, it’s not. At least, not at this stage. It’s actually keeping you from finishing your book, which is a problem.

Second, it can also be hard to move on when you feel like what you’ve written so far could be so much better. And if you’re having a hard time with Tip #3, simply taking the work off your screen might be the way to go. The less previously written work you have access to, the harder it will be to edit.

5) Write on the clock

I did a post a couple of weeks ago that touched on the benefits of writing on the clock and how I use this technique. The idea is you set a reasonable writing goal to meet in a given amount of time. As I mentioned in that post, one reason why I love this approach is that it focuses on quantity, not quality, which is important in the drafting stage. It also makes it easier to push on and get your words down without editing while you write because you simply don’t have time for anything else.

I hope this helps you stop editing while you write!

If you’re looking for more tips like this, you might want to check out this post: 6 Tips for Finishing Your First Draft.

Now it’s your turn: Have you caught yourself editing while you write? If you have, how do you manage it? If you haven’t, what tips can you share? Tell me about it in the comments!

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