How I Write - Part 5: Editing, Rewriting & Beta Readers, Oh My!




In case you can't tell, editing is far from my favorite thing. Further evidence of this comes from the fact that it took just ten months to write a 95,000 word complete first draft, while it's taken nearly eight months to complete my first full round of edits.

Not that I'm complaining. Editing is an important, and necessary part of the process. It's just that I haven't really achieved that nirvana-like state in my process where things click along smoothly, like they do when I'm writing new material. I think one of the issues is that, with my smartphone and my text editing app, I can write new material anytime (I started this blog, for example, while in the dentist's chair waiting for a crown to finish baking). However, the only way editing really works for me is to print out what's already been written, get my pen (color of ink doesn't matter) and mark it up as I read it. I've tried editing on-screen and it just doesn't seem to work—I tend to skip over mistakes and sections that need reworking without even realizing I've missed them. So, editing for me, as I'm guessing it is for others, is less about the joy of creation and more about the nine-to-five, intensive labor of shaping that first draft into a salable (or at least somewhat coherent) story. In any case, here is my process thus far.

Upon completing my first draft, my first editing task was to...wait for it...take a break.

Yes, that's right, as much as I wanted to dive right in and get cracking with the editing and rewriting, what I really needed more than anything was a little bit of distance. First, to celebrate the accomplishment of finishing the first draft just a bit before digging into the drudgery of the editing process. But more importantly, the distance gave me some much-needed clarity toward my story and the characters involved. Clarity that made it easier to delete the things that weren't right, and add in new things that were. Things that I might have missed had I dove into editing straight away.

Step two in my editing process was to take each chapter in turn, starting at the very beginning, and work through the entire book. As I mentioned before, I did this with pen and paper, as opposed to attempting any type of electronic editing. I also had decided along the way that "Your Truth is Out There" would be a combination of my original novella, "Rockin' Across the Galaxy" and the new material I had written as a continuation of that story. This meant I had to re-edit the novella to match the new material, as well as write a considerable amount of new work to bridge the two documents into one continuous narrative. As you might imagine, this has been a long process, made longer by the limited amount of time I have during a typical week to work on it.

A couple of notes about editing this way that has made my process easier. As noted in a previous blog, I've written and saved each chapter in it's own individual file. This has been extremely beneficial while editing, as I have found it necessary to reorder several chapters, and having each chapter in it's own separate document made rearranging them a snap. The second note, is that I've found it much easier when editing a hard-copy print, to do so when the copy is double-spaced. Clearly, that's a personal preference, but it works well for me.

Since I have just recently finished "step two," the rest of this blog will discuss my planned next steps in the editing process before releasing my story out into the world.

As I write this, I'm sitting at my printer, printing version 2.0 of "Your Truth is Out There." Once printed, I will read it aloud to my wife. This will accomplish two things: first, hearing the words as I say them out loud is a great way to catch mistakes, poor phrasing and other things that can doom what might otherwise be a good story; things that I might easily miss when reading silently to myself while editing. Second, my wife is an excellent beta reader. She is kind, loving and more importantly, brutally honest. If something doesn't work, she's not afraid to say so. She knows how important this is to me, and how important it is that this work is the best it can be. Sharing this goal with me, she is willing to assist me by not simply smiling and saying "that's nice, dear," but instead offer a real, valuable critique of my work. Finding individuals who will offer you real, honest feedback (and you accepting that feedback for what it's meant to be) is vitally important if you want your work to be its very best.

After making any edits that come from reading it aloud to my wife/beta reader/listener, I will then send version "3.0" off to my editor. I can't give too much advice about hiring an outside editor, as this will be the first time I've done so, however, I do believe it's important and necessary. Having someone skilled in the technical aspects of language and grammar, who also hasn't seen your work before and has no emotional ties to you can be extremely helpful. They can find any plot holes or other story problems, along with any technical issues that you may have missed. I do think it's important to shop around and find an editor that you will feel comfortable working with, while also being within your budget.

After the editor, comes the beta readers. This may be out of order, as I've read that you should have your beta readers read it before sending it to your editor, but I think it important that my beta readers get something that is as close to final as I can provide them, even if that means another full round of editing and proofing after the betas have finished.

After I've finished incorporating the input received from my betas, and had it proofed again, it will be time to add in the book cover (which I will cover in a separate blog when I get to that point), any front matter and other extras, and then...PUBLISH!