I’ll always remember the naïve joy that I had writing my first manuscript. The way I treasured that first draft. Oh, I knew of course that I would need to edit, but I truly believed the hard work was done.
I look back now, and I laugh, and laugh.
Let me caveat what I’m about to tell you by saying – this is what works for me. I’ve completed several manuscripts, attended a few online courses, participated in critique groups, read editing books, and exchanged advice with several writing friends. Because, let me tell you, I was woefully underprepared for what being a writer actually involved. And I’m a nerd – give me an opportunity to study something and I’m all over it. Over the years, this has coalesced into the way that works best for me. I’m also very aware that my process is likely to change as time goes on. No doubt I will revisit this blog post at a future time…and laugh once again.
First things first – I try not to edit as I’m going along. There is a temptation when you’re drafting to go back and craft those initial chapters over and over again until you’ve got a shining beacon of an opening. The problem with this? Well, if you’re anything like me, you’ll procrastinate over writing the rest of the sodding thing because you can’t move on until it’s perfect. After spending a decade (not an exaggeration, sadly) crafting the first few chapters of a manuscript, I realised that wasn’t the way forward.
So, what I did for the next two manuscripts, is I refused to read anything that I’d written in the chapters before, and just ploughed on regardless. This worked better, but it still didn’t feel quite right. Sometimes, I would lose the thread of the story or the voice of the character where I had jumped between scenes without revisiting anything that preceded it.
Now, whenever I sit down to write, I read the chapter or scene before. If I notice any errors, awkward language etc, I make a quick change, but I don’t agonise over the language – that fun comes later. Then, I launch into the next scene. I find this helps keep me focused on the character’s mindset and voice.
Once the manuscript is complete – I put it away for a week and have a break.
Hahaha – gotcha! If you read my previous post, you know this is bollocks. You should take a break – but my brain is an asshole so we carry on!
Once the draft is complete – before I do any editing, I send it to my alpha readers. I have three fabulous ladies who are all fast readers. Once they’ve given me feedback, I use that to begin to consider the direction I want to take my edits.
Then comes my first full read through. In this one, I focus on characters, arcs, plot, and pacing. New scenes are written, and old ones struck entirely. It’s also an opportunity to cut down any unnecessary sentences. I read a piece of advice that has stuck with me – ‘every sentence needs to have a function.’ If it doesn’t – cut it out! It’s made such a huge difference to my writing.
Once this read through is complete, I go back again for the next one. I pay close attention to the language (like, the many fucking times my characters SMILE!!) and search up suitable alternatives. I check for typos (although I will inevitably miss a few thousand) and pay attention to the characters’ voices.
Once this edit is complete, it’s time for it to wing it’s way to a beta reader. Even though I have my awesome alpha readers (who I’m super grateful for), a beta reader is usually someone who is well versed with what does and doesn’t work in the genre. As someone who is normally distanced from you and the story, their feedback can often be more constructive. Their thoughts will give you a good indication of how your intended readership will react to your book and what you can improve upon.
Using their feedback, I will generally tweak storylines, add more descriptions (because this is something I always struggle with so is generally picked up!) and take into consideration anything else they have raised.
Then – it’s time for it to go for developmental editing. This tends to be a more in-depth analysis of your manuscript than a beta read. Focusing on plot, characters, and pacing, they can help advice you on how to shape your book into a better beast. You can also ask the editor for advice on areas you feel are weaker which can be really useful. My editor also offers a zoom call option which is super handy to just talk through her notes.
What follows then is normally my biggest edit. With some manuscripts, I’ve scrapped entire characters or storylines. With others, I’ve reordered scenes and introduced whole new ones.
The final stage is copy editing and proof reading. Now some people are tempted to skip this step but, speaking as a reader, please don’t. You wouldn’t believe how easy it is for a typo or error to be missed. I once had a chapter that was read by 6 people in my critique group, several family members, and two agents. It was only when it was being copy edited that a major error was pointed out. It was a proper forehead slapping moment. It seemed so obvious when it was brought to my attention, but up until that point, I’d missed it entirely. From a readers point of view – nothing pulls me out of a story faster than a typo or error. The writer is often too close to the material to see the errors – which is why using a professional copyeditor/proofreader can be so useful.
Now – I’m aware I’ve pointed out that I use three different professionals to help me whip my manuscript into shape. As I said at the start, this is because it is what works for me right now. It’s not necessarily the route for everyone! You may have alpha readers who negate the need for a beta reader. Or, if you’ve used a beta reader, you might not need developmental editing. Basically, you need to find what works for you.
Finally, BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY,if you do decide to enlist any professional help – do your research. Reach out to other authors in your genre to see who they have used. Read reviews and testimonials on their websites. Check the front pages of the bestsellers or books you’ve enjoyed in your genre and see if you think you’d work well for you.
And remember, their advice is just that – advice. You do not need to take it. At the end of the day, it is your baby, your project. You need to make it what you envisioned it to be. Yes, take their thoughts into consideration, but if you disagree with something they suggested, you do not have to do it. At the end of the day – it is one person’s opinion. Don’t get me wrong – if everyone is giving you the same feedback, you need to take what they are saying into consideration – however hard that might be. But ultimately, you need to do what is right for you, your process, and your book.