I hate editing.
Over the years, I've attended many writing workshops on how to best edit your work. As a teacher, I've had students ask me about it as well. What I've discovered is that one of the reasons I hate editing so much is that there are so many ways to do it. And what works for you one time, may not work for you another.
Editing is not just about the process of cleaning up ideas and fixing bad grammar. It's about delving deeper into your manuscript, deeper into the lives of your characters. It means giving good characters bad character traits to make them more real or providing tragedy in moments of comedy that bring the reader to tears.
Editing is a very emotional business!
So how does one go about doing it? Do you start with cutting the back story down? Do you work a few chapters at a time until you are completely satisfied? Should you put away the whole story for weeks before even starting the process? Is it the word count that must be trimmed before you can focus on the layers of the story? Does the time of day make the biggest difference to how much work you get done?
The truth is that it's different for everyone. I don't know one writer who has the same process as another. Despite what I may say to a student writer, the fact is that once you learn to self edit (catch the spelling, the grammar, the punctuation) as you go along, how you choose to your revise the manuscript or story is really your call. Many writers use the techniques mentioned in the paragraphs above.
I've tried most of the methods listed and really feel that editing depends on when you wrote the story, how long it is, how emotionally attached you feel to the characters. I hate editing a full manuscript after it's been put away for a long time--say a year or so. I used to write fast and hard and then shelf the manuscript so it could "breathe." However, I would often start working on other projects and not go back to the novel as quickly as I had planned. The result? I felt disconnected from the work and found it harder to edit, harder to know what had happened and when crucial plot points occurred in the story. When I work on this type of manuscript, I find that I must to make the editing manageable by reading the whole thing, making notes, and then working in sections at a time. For me, it helps to divide the novel into three acts.
Manuscripts that I wrote and worked on immediately are much easier for me to edit, but require more discipline to finish. When I work on a project and strive to keep the word count around 80,000 words, I find that I can keep all my eggs in the basket. I don't lose sight of the plot points or the characters. They stay at the forefront of my mind. I do sometimes need to walk away for a week or two, but not for months at a time. I reread constantly, making notes on my phone or by hand, and I put it on my Kindle so that I am forced to read without instantly editing.
I mentioned that it takes more discipline for the above method. For me, ideas for stories are constantly jumping around in my head, tempting me to work on them instead of the task at hand. I'm at the point now that when I have a good idea, I may start writing pieces of it, but not the whole thing unless my other projects are done. I want to be able to devote all of my energy to the tale at hand--not only for creative purposes, but for editing, too.
Mary Ann Loesch is the author of the Bayou Myth series, Nephilim, and Even This Shall Pass. You can purchase her books at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. To learn more about Mary Ann, drop by her website: Mary Ann Loesch Website