How To Edit: Lessons Learned the Hard Way

When I was little, I liked to play with hairdryers. One day, I decided to put the hair dryer in my mouth. Then, I turned it on.

Needless to say, that was a lesson learned the hard way: don’t put hairdryers in your mouth.

Another thing I loved to do was climb trees. I was also scared of heights. One day, I beat my personal record for climbing this one particular tree in the playground at school; I climbed so high up, the branches trembled and bent when I put my weight on them. Then, I decided to look down to see how far up I’d gone…it took two hours to get me to come down.

Yet another lesson learned the hard way: don’t climb trees if you’re scared of heights.

In more recent days, in addition to loving hairdryers and trees, I adore writing. One day, I decided to edit my book. Then, I died.

Lesson learned: don’t edit your book if you don’t like dying.

Image result for death  bugs bunny gif

So, here’s how to edit your work-in-very-slow-progress, without feeling suicidal on a constant basis. Well, I’m not going to guarantee that last part; editing is always hard. However, this is how I learned to edit, and what works for me.

  1. For fuck’s sake, don’t start immediately. You’re still on a writer’s high from actually finishing your first draft, so everything you read will sound like a masterpiece. I can guarantee you that the little voice in your ear singing your praises is a product of your tired-ass brain, its last dregs of creativity used to create a source of positive feedback. Why else do you think you’re hallucinating little voices?
  2. Despite what everyone tells you, don’t read all the way through it either. I tried that, and got so overwhelmed by the bullshit of my writing that I couldn’t even look at my manuscript for a solid month after. Why do you think that, four months after finishing writing my manuscript, I’m only 15 chapters into editing it? Besides that fact that I’m a horrible procrastinator, I mean.
  3. You probably have a list of scenes that you think are shit, or missing completely, even before looking over your story. Start there. This step is more applicable to underwriters like myself, whose idea of finishing a first draft is basically getting all the big, enormously important scenes written. The first actual step of editing is to go back to those scenes and flesh them out. I know that I had lots of blank spaces, ornamented only with huge block letters telling me basically what happens, saturating my manuscript. After getting over the shock to my ego provided by my read-through (lessons learned the hard way, remember?), I got cracking on filling in the blanks.
    Image result for bullshit detector meme
    • Note: if you don’t have blanks in your manuscript, or you don’t know where those blanks are, and you feel absolutely confident in every single scene in your book, you should definitely start with a read through. But I still think you can list at least a couple scenes that you know, deep down, suck…spend a couple hours doing some introspection. I suggest starting by listing everything you hate about yourself; when I do that, my writing ability is usually near the top of the list, and then my self-loathing-bullshit-detector pinpoints theย parts of my writing projects that suck the most. It does great things for your self esteem, trust me.
  4. After filling in the blanks, make a list of themes you want to show, and plot twists to foreshadow. I didn’t until I was done my second draft, and reading through my shit (step 6). It was only then that I realised that my themes were implied, but not really…okay, they were missing. Why do I even bother tryingย to save my pride anymore? I had no themes- I only had dirty jokes. For example, I wanted to show how racism had evolved from judging people based on their skin tone to judging people based on their genetic background. So, what did I do in my first and second drafts? I made one solitaryย joke comparing tail length to the size of…other body parts. Racist? Yes, because this guy’s tail was small, and he was also dumb (the brain is a body part too, you know!). Explicit and heart breaking racism? Nope. Missed that by a mile. So, you see how making a list of themes you want to portray after writing your first draft (that’s when you have a clearer picture of your story, because it’s done), might be a good idea. Same goes for plot twists. You need for foreshadow them so that when they actually come to pass, your readers aren’t completely lost.
  5. Make a graph of character arcs. I did this, and it helped for all five seconds that I actually checked my graphs before losing them in the huge pile of notebooks and notes stacked by my textbooks on the floor. Basically, your characters’ emotions, and mental health (in Jay’s case) fluctuate throughout your story based on both internal and external factors. Graph those fluctuations. On the X- axis, put time (it might be helpful to also map out what event happens when), and on the Y-axis, put happiness level, or some emotional shit like that. If you’ve written your character well, it probably won’t affect your writing too much, but it’ll help you keep track of emotions so you don’t have continuity errors.

    Image result for line graphs emotions and timefunny
    reference…if roller coasters were characters
  6. Go to Chapter 1, and start editing. Don’t bother doing a read through before editing, I still think that’s a bad idea for your self esteem and I fear for your ability to work through the sensation of a wave of work crashing down on you; so, just go to the top, and start editing. Fix grammar. Correct dialogue. Make the action spicier. Delete info dumps. If you find a section in the middle of your manuscript that’s random and you don’t remember reading about earlier, make a note of it, debate whether it’s actually necessary, and then keep going. Don’t fix the foreshadowing until you’ve come to the end.
  7. Go back to the top and do the foreshadowing, fix any remaining plot holes, cry. A normal Saturday afternoon for a writer, in other words.
  8. Send it out to beta readers. I’m still at step 6 (although I sort of accidentally mixed step 6 and 7 earlier, and regretted everything, because I got super confused and forgot what I was editing, or thinking as I was editing. My brain was in Ultimate Confusion Uselessness mode), so I can confirm that after going so in depth with your editing, your story becomes less of a story and more of a list of scenes and stuff to fix. It doesn’t have any consistency or spark to it anymore. Therefore, send it to beta readers, along with a list of questions they should answer so that later, you know which areas are good, which need more work, and how entertaining your shit is.

I’ll make a more in-depth post about beta readers from the author’s perspective after I actually go through the beta reading process. Right now, I think early March is a good time to start sending it out to strangers to judge. Exams will be right around the corner, so I’ll get to combine two mental breakdowns into one time period. Killing two birds with one stone, in other words. I will be both birds.

Image result for killing 2 birds with one stone

So, does this list of tips resemble your editing process at all? Or am I just a special little snowflake with regards to how I edit? And yes, “special” is used in the “special” way here. As in, weird as fuck.

20 thoughts on “How To Edit: Lessons Learned the Hard Way

  1. Haha. Seriously laughed out loud several times, probably the hardest at this line, “One day, I decided to edit my book. Then, I died.” I think I stopped laughing and almost started crying at some point when I realized this is my life. Good ideas for the themes and graphs for character arcs.
    Seriously, Ella, Chapter 15? Weren’t you just on Chapter 10? I’m still back on Chapter 4. Granted, I’m going to cut myself some slack because instead of editing, I’ve been writing, editing smaller works, and submitting short stories and poems to literary magazine. Which is to say I’ve been working really hard to avoid editing my novel.
    Thanks for the laugh and advice.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Awwwww thanks so much! I actually didn’t think this post was all that funny because I was actually trying to be informative, so it’s good to know that I was at least a little wrong. And yeah, I basically gave myself the day off of school yesterday, so I spent a lot of time editing my shit- PRODUCTIVITY! Wow, you’re really on top of your stuff, good job…I can never shorten my plots enough to create short stories- they always end up being full-on novels, which I realize about 50 pages in ๐Ÿ˜› I can’t wait to read your novel- maybe we could beta read for each other?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I used to only think in novel length too, but I took a creative writing class years ago, where we had to write a short story every week. It helped me figure out how to condense these huge ideas into a small space. One of the stories I wrote for the class was a full novel in my head, and I managed to cram the story into 4 1/2 pages. And it seriously was complete at the end of those pages, I even killed the protagonist. After the class, I picked those pages up without changing anything, and I started from that point and moved forward in the story, writing my first novel. Completely different story than I originally thought. Another project that needs to be edited. I’m working backwards. Editing my second novel first. I need more discipline.
        Great job being productive! And yes, I’d be happy to be a beta reader for you! And I’d love for you to be one for me as well. I’ll put you down for that assignment, say in 5 years when I actually finish editing. Haha

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s amazing…but I guess practice makes perfect, right? What was the story about? Did the prof like it? LOL I don’t think it’ll take that long to finish editing- you’re already on chapter 4!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. The short story was about a man who felt he lost his reason to live, and his guardian angel who struggled to keep him alive while trying to heal his pain. It’s a struggle between freewill and fate. The professor thought the story was excellent, of course this came after several edited versions. Her note to me on my final story in the class (which was different than the one above) said that she hoped I continued to write as much as I could because she believed my stories deserved to have readers. She was very kind an inspiring.
        Speaking of which, you’re really motivating me to edit. Hopefully I can get serious about it this weekend and get through this chapter, which so far has consisted of A LOT of rewriting.
        How many chapters do you have in your book? And what genre is it in? Forgive me for not knowing this yet, I just started following your blog.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Wow, that’s deep as fuck. Who cares how many revisions that story went through- it’s the end product that counts ๐Ÿ™‚ Awwwww, she sounds like a sweetheart. There should be more people like her- the last person who encouraged me to write was my sixth grade teacher who crowned me “Writer of the Year”, an honour that came with a little gold plaque.
        That’s awesome! And don’t worry about it, I don’t expect you to wade through the first couple months of wobbly writing I published to get to the meat of my blog ๐Ÿ˜› I’m writing a sci fi novel about Jay, a slightly suicidal genius who, after hiding out in the forest for a month to escape his deranged professor obsessed with torturing the secret to a new invention from him, gets kidnapped and forced to participate in a series of televised games to the death. That’s the one sentence synopsis that I just created two seconds ago…and yes, I know it’s a run-on sentence. I didn’t count all my chapters yet- I’m numbering them as I edit ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      5. The gold plaque sounds awesome! I hope you still have it.
        You’re right in that there should be more voices out there encouraging writers. It’s kind of a dark, lonely path, and I don’t know how anyone gets through it alone. No one should have to, because it’s a greater journey when you have support. It’s unfortunate that you haven’t received more of that from teachers since sixth grade, but I’ll be your cheerleader.
        I love sci-fi, so I am very excited to read this book.
        I didn’t have chapters in my first draft either. ๐Ÿ™‚ This will be my first run through that has chapters, which is kind of nice.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Yeah, I do, actually ๐Ÿ˜›
        You’re right about the darkness and loneliness, but somehow I feel like if writing were easy, it wouldn’t be as fulfilling as it always is. There’s a satisfaction that comes with knowing that against all odds, you’ve continued working in this profession whose only upsides are the community and the creativity that it entails. Sure, teachers haven’t been that great, but I have some great friends who encourage me, so that works- but I’m too excited about hearing your cheers to discourage you ๐Ÿ˜› Of course, I will return the favour!
        Chapters are hard, man; you never really know when to break them off, especially when there are time lapses within the same section.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. It really is the best profession. You really have to want it.
        I also replied to your comments on my page; however, it’s not showing up in my WordPress view of comments so who knows where they went.
        It’s been great talking with you today, gaining a beta reader (is it too late to mention my novel is horror? I hope you like that genre), and finding another writer to exchange ideas with and encourage.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. I got your replies- I replied to the one on flash fiction, but for some reason, it’s not going through…
        LOL I love horror! The scarier, the better- give me all the nightmares. It’s been a pleasure meeting you too ๐Ÿ˜€

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Luckily, my fingers weren’t strong enough at the ripe old age of four to actually turn it on- I more twiddled the switch, accidentally burning my tongue in the process. And then I started crying and threw the hair dryer away. I was stuck eating soup an jello for a solid week!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I too was knocked out by your helluva hookuva headline and had a hard time focusing on your keen and focused editing points from the lol-ing. But as for me, I always get stuck in an endless edit-as-you-go loop that paradoxically takes me farther from the end the closer I get to it.

    Great post, my friend. Love the look of the place, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. On the bright side- laughter! And thanks, I thought my points were a little too vague, but I’m glad you got some use out of them ๐Ÿ™‚
      Yeah, I thought that the bloody-goth-vampire look would perfectly suit my sarcastic humour.

      Liked by 1 person

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