You’ve done it. You’ve completed your novel, and the manuscript is saved on your computer. It’s a great feeling to finally be done, but real work is just beginning. That’s right, now you have to take the time to edit and revise your manuscript. While the writing process can be overwhelming, the editing process can also feel that way.
Let’s discuss some strategies to help you limit your anxiety regarding editing and rewrites.
Give Yourself Time
Unless you have a hard deadline from a publisher where your manuscript is due in a week, give yourself plenty of time to edit and rewrite. The last thing you want to do is rush the process. Rushing will inevitably cause you to skim the material and possibly miss easily fixable grammar and spelling errors.
Editing is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t rush the process. Read each chapter. Add material where needed and cut things that don’t work or don’t enhance the story or its characters. I would suggest only working on a few chapters daily for a few hours. This will keep you focused and give you a clear set of goals for the day.
Speaking of goals…
Break It Down
Most novels have chapters, and those chapters can be divided into manageable sections for editing. Let’s say your book has 80 chapters, and you want to get the editing done over the next three weeks. That’s 21 days to work through 80 chapters. Doing the math, that comes out to about four chapters a day.
Four chapters are much easier to tackle than being overwhelmed by the thought of editing 80. So, each day, you are tasked with working on the edits and rewrites for just four chapters. When you’re done, stop. Give your mind a break and continue with the next four the following day.
This will keep your momentum and creativity fresh as you work through a specific batch of chapters.
Cut and Paste
Editing a complete manuscript can be a daunting and unnerving task. Thousands of words and hundreds of pages are being shifted around every time you type a new sentence or add a new chapter. Your eyes can constantly be focused on the work count and page count instead of the content you’re working on.
I suggest starting a new document and then copying and pasting the material to be edited into the new document. This will be the home of your edited manuscript, so save it with the title and date you started to edit this draft. Copy and paste the next batch of chapters into this document each day for revision. At the end, you’ll have a fully revised and edited draft.
This cuts out the distraction of the final page and word count, allowing you to focus on what matters: the content of your story.
Editing is a lengthy process. Changing how you approach editing can subvert the anxiety and panic that can creep into your mind as you work through your manuscript. By working on a little at a time in a separate space, you’ll be amazed at how your productivity and creativity thrive.
What obstacles or problems do you face in your life? Do you feel hopeless when it comes to achieving your goals? Like forces are trying to stop you?
What if that perspective was wrong, and those obstacles and problems were present for a reason? What if working with those obstacles was part of your journey to success?
I know that’s a lot of questions to pose, but these and many more are asked and discussed in The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumphs by Ryan Holiday. In his book, Holiday breaks down how we can utilize problems and obstacles that arise as we push toward our goals to become stronger in the long run.
With dozens of examples of past and present figures who have overcome adversity and achieved greatness when the odds were stacked against them, Holiday shows us that anyone can reach their goals with enough persistence and perseverance to follow through.
The book is broken into three sections: Perception; Action; and Will, and each delivers clear insight into how you can apply these methodologies in your daily life and break through the barriers you come across by using them to your advantage.
Based on the philosophy of the Stoics, The Obstacle is the Way is a pragmatic approach to problem solving that anyone can easily access and apply in their daily pursuits.
It’s a great book filled with solid advice and inspiring examples. I highly recommend The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday.
One of the fun parts of writing is experimenting with characters and their myriad choices. A character can be anywhere, do anything, and has millions of options in what they do and how they act. As their creator, you are given total control over what they do, when they do it, and the consequences of those actions.
In keeping with the spirit of this concept, I thought we’d have some fun using one of your fictional characters.
Let’s get started!
Choose a fictional character you have created. It should be one you have used in a story before or have fleshed out enough to use in a future story.
The Best of Times
Using your chosen character, how would they react in the following scenarios (you can write a paragraph or a 500-word story for each but from the POV of the character):
Winning the Lottery
Buying a New Home
Having a Baby
Completing a Passion Project
Taking a Dream Vacation
Buying Their Dream Car
The Worst of Times
Getting a Divorce/Breakup
Arrested for a Crime They Didn’t Commit
Ending Up Homeless
Overcome By Addiction
Natural Disaster/Animal Attack
Making a Change
Pick one from each category and expand upon it. How can the good or bad situation help your character grow and change? How might they overcome a negative situation or how could a good situation turn bad?
What’s the Point?
Characters are usually explored through the prism of the story they are a part of. By expanding their worldview and the situations they find themselves in, you, as the writer, can create more well-rounded and dimensional characters.
Has something crazy ever happened to you, and you want to tell someone, but you need to figure out the best way to present the story to them? This is what being a writer can feel like, more often than not. We have a great story idea, all the elements, and an outline, but we’re not sure how to best communicate the story.
Let’s talk about it.
While most stories have a beginning, middle, and end, the way each story travels that path varies based on how the events are presented. As you develop your story, decide if you want to communicate the storyline linearly, jumping back and forth in time or using flashbacks as a story device.
Whose POV are we getting the story from? This character will be the conduit through which the reader is given information about the events in the story. Are we getting one character’s POV or several POVs? How does each character’s POV give the reader new insight into the story?
Decide the best way to convey the story and its elements. Does the story have enough material to be novel, or is it a novella or short story? Could it be a screenplay or a play? Each of these requires a different type of communicative style that uniquely delivers information to the reader.
How have others handled stories similar to yours? What genre would it fit into? How have those authors effectively communicated their stories to readers? How can you apply that information to your story to communicate it better?
Put It Out There
If you’ve written out an outline or a draft, give it to someone to read. Let them ask questions. Find ways to communicate the story that keeps them wanting more. Are there points where they lost interest or were confused? Ask them why? Then you can work on fine-tuning those areas to make them stronger and more effective.
Learn From Others
We’ve all seen at least one movie or read a novel where the idea is there, but how it’s communicated and presented fails to capture our interest. Why did this happen? By learning from others, we can strengthen our work by avoiding mistakes.
We often talk about the basics of writing: who, what, where, when, and why. But the final element, how, is just as important when you set out to communicate your story effectively. Deciding the best way to present the narrative can help strengthen your story and give it a greater impact.
I thought we’d explore the exciting world of re-writing in this week’s exercise.
Pick a Paragraph
Find a paragraph from something you’ve written – either in the past or your current WIP – and either copy and paste it into a separate document on your computer. If it’s handwritten, you can type it into a new document.
If you don’t have anything, pick a paragraph from a book you’ve read.
This paragraph should be five or more sentences.
Make it Brief
Read through the paragraph. What’s the main point of the information presented? How can that information be conveyed in fewer sentences or fewer words?
Does the information presented in the original paragraph still come across in the new, shorter version? How could the information presented in the original paragraph be cut down to one sentence?
Expand, Expand, Expand
Using the original paragraph, how can you expand upon the information provided and turn the paragraph’s content into a page-long paragraph? Could you add details, more flowery language, or expand upon the information provided without obscuring the meaning of the original paragraph?
Does the longer paragraph still convey the original’s meaning, or is it somehow lost in the expanded translation?
Start over. Re-write the original paragraph to communicate the same information in the same amount of space, but create a whole new paragraph.
How does the rewritten one differ from the original? What did you add or remove that gave the paragraph greater clarity or might cause confusion?
Why Am I Doing This?
When it comes to writing, editing is part of the process. Sometimes we might come across a paragraph or section of our story that needs further information or detail to give information to the audience.
Other times we might have to cut down a paragraph to its bare bones but still need to convey the same information. This skill will be helpful if you’re dealing with a required word count.
An author who is excellent at communicating a lot of info in a short space is James Patterson.
On the flip side, George R.R. Martin is an author who can expand a small idea into a long-form paragraph.
I recommend reading or skimming their works for examples of long and short paragraphs.
We’ve all been there at one point or another. You planned to sit down and write when you got home from work or over the weekend, and instead, you cleaned, read, or binge-watched something. Now, you feel guilty and sick about wasting time that could have been spent writing and creating. You vow not to do it again.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
Let’s talk about it.
You’re Not Lazy; Your Subconscious Is
Humans have a lot going on, and sometimes we don’t take the time to prioritize things that we want to do. While we may have the desire and ambition to write, our subconscious secretly talks us out of it. Why? Because writing and creating take effort and energy, and after a long week at work staring at a screen, your brain is sick of computers and wants to veg out and do something mindless.
Interestingly, we often plan to do things like write, only to find ourselves doing anything but writing.
Possible Solution: Trick yourself. Don’t think about writing during the week. Don’t plan to write, don’t carve out time to write. Just jump in the chair and start whenever you get a spare moment. Now you’re writing at the computer or with a pen and paper, and you’ve overridden your subconscious’s ability to stop you.
Let the Guilt Go
It’s easy to feel guilty about not writing. Heck, the news wants us to feel guilty about pretty much everything, everywhere, all at once. That alone is exhausting and taxing, so adding one more thing to the pile – especially something you want to do – only makes you feel worse about yourself. There may be genuine reasons to feel guilt, but missing a day or weekend of writing shouldn’t be one of them.
Possible Solution: Accept that you didn’t write when you wanted to, but know you will get to it when you can. Creativity can’t flourish and grow under the oppressive weight of guilt and disappointment. Free your mind from these things and allow your creative self the freedom it deserves.
Newsflash: You’re Human
Part of being human is missing opportunities, making mistakes, and not getting to things we planned to do. Oh well. Life happens.
And when life happens, we have to accept that we didn’t have the time to write, or we didn’t make the time to write, or chose not to write. All of them are okay, and beating yourself up about past choices won’t help resolve or improve the present.
Making the time, taking the time, and choosing to write and create is a positive and energizing process. You’ve done it before, and you’ll do it again. So, you didn’t get to it this weekend. Okay. Or this month. Uh-huh. Or this year. Whatever.
Eventually, if you want it bad enough, desire it enough, and have the passion, you will get back to writing.
One word at a time. One sentence at a time. One paragraph at a time. You can make it happen, but don’t let negativity, guilt, or beating yourself up prevent you from getting there.
If you’ve ever seen a track meet, you’ve probably been witness to a false start at some point. It’s that moment when a runner is so keyed up and ready to go that they leave the blocks or cross the line before the starting pistol is fired. It can be embarrassing for the runner that caused the false start, but the nice thing is that they can try again.
And when it comes to starting your story, so do you.
Stories start within the timeline of events you have created, but sometimes the chosen point doesn’t work. Let’s explore some possible reasons why.
You had a great idea for an opening sequence when you outlined your story. But when you sat down to write it out, you realized that not many significant events that influence the story’s direction or deliver insights into the characters happen during this time.
You may have started your story too early, which means looking at your outline and deciding the best moment to kick things off. You can also look at your outline and ask, “What happens before this that’s important?” and write a new opening for your story.
It’s crucial to hook the reader from the start, and if you realize the starting chapter you planned doesn’t have the momentum needed to keep the pages turning, it might be time to move forward and find the moment that does.
I recently had this issue. I had an action-packed sequence for the opening chapter, and I was excited to write it and watch the events unfold. Once I wrote it out, I realized that there was a lot of key information missing that was needed for a reader to have context regarding what was going on.
I decided to add this information in the middle of the action, but that threw off the pacing of the chapter.
So, I took a step back and asked myself, “What events led up to this moment that should be conveyed to the reader?” I took the time to backtrack, and after a while, I had a new chapter to place in front of the action-packed one that established the setting, characters, and conflict in a way that grounded the reader and helped lead into the initial chapter I had written.
Sometimes we want to jump into the story, but we must remember that we’re holding the reader’s hand on this journey, and they don’t know all we know about what’s happening. This is fine if you are writing a mystery and some elements need to be withheld, but if you’re not, you risk confusing and frustrating the reader.
By moving the story back a few minutes, I could give the reader the necessary information, so the next chapter had a more significant impact and made more sense. If you feel that your story begins too late, take the time to explore what led up to the current set of circumstances and write a chapter that provides readers with the context needed to really get into your story.
Don’t Be Afraid to Play
Stories allow us to play and have fun, so we have many options about how and when our story starts. Experiment with this idea by jotting down several ideas as starting points for your story. Some may be too early, some too late, but a few might be the key to giving the opening of your story the energy and hook it needs.
As writers, we have fantastic power. We can create new worlds, characters, scenarios, and stories that can be enjoyed and shared with others until the end of time. That’s quite a gift to have and one that often perplexes those who don’t write and create. It’s as if they think what we do comes from some magic spell.
But we know the truth.
Magic powers or special abilities don’t make us a writer. They don’t make us creative. They don’t give up special powers to conjure up stories at will.
Writing takes time. It takes persistence. It takes dedication. Like other professions or hobbies, it is a skill set that can be honed and perfected over time; but only if you take the time to improve.
If you have a knack for storytelling and a talent for crafting great characters and dialogue, that’s great. But even those with ingrained and intuitive writing talent must work to improve their craft.
It’s just the reality of the situation.
Why do people believe this about writers or other creatives? Why do they think what we do is some prestidigitation instead of the result of a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get our art out of our heads and into the world?
Perhaps it’s fear that drives this theory. It’s easier to make up an excuse like “being a writer is a magical thing” instead of investing the time to sit down and write. Maybe it’s intimidation that leads some to think this way. After all, seeing Stephen King’s name on over 60 books can make anyone think King and other prolific authors are under some magical spell to write as much as they do.
But it’s nothing like that. It’s just putting in the work. It’s about trusting the process. It’s about believing in your skills and abilities and being humble enough to know that you can improve upon them whenever you write.
The only real magic comes from inside you, your creativity, and your ideas. No magic wand, spell book, or enchanted mirror is required.
Editing is a necessary and inevitable part of the writing process. No matter what you’re writing – from a blog post to a novel – taking the time to correct, add, delete, or change things helps make your writing stronger and helps you deliver a polished product.
When you edit, you likely know the key areas you want to focus on to improve the manuscript. Still, it’s best to read the entire draft and make changes to each chapter along the way.
Let’s talk about it.
There’s Always Something
Even if you love how a chapter is written, there’s always room for small changes that can result in a stronger finished product. It can be as simple as rewording a sentence for clarity or as involved as delivering greater detail to a character’s appearance. You may also find grammar or spelling errors you missed in previous drafts that can now be fixed.
Every little bit helps.
Pacing, Pacing, Pacing
Taking the time to re-visit your entire story can help you see where the story lags, where a reader might lose interest, or where even you, as the writer, need clarification. Checking the story for pacing and ease of reading can ensure you don’t lose a reader at any point during the story.
What Really Matters
By going through each chapter, you can also ensure that each chapter has a reason to be in the book. A reason? Yes, a reason. Each chapter should provide the reader with information about a character or plot that helps to move the story forward. Whether it’s the main story, sub-plots, or backstory, all of it needs to assist in propelling the narrative toward its conclusion.
Beginnings and Endings
How does the story begin? Does it grab you? Does it make you want to turn to the next page and keep reading? Go back through your opening chapters to ensure they help transport the reader into the story’s world and keep them there. You can offer up set-ups and questions in these early chapters that will be paid off and answered later.
With the final chapters, have you created a satisfying conclusion for your reader that ties up any loose story threads and gives them a complete story? Is there anything presented throughout the story that hasn’t been resolved? Reading the entire manuscript ensures all story points are concluded and not left flapping in the wind for readers to ponder what happened.
Editing is a lengthy task and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. By giving your story the time and editing it deserves, you can help make it a more robust narrative with better pacing, a stronger opening, and a grand finale.
It’s also great to snag those pesky grammar and spelling errors!