Yes, I know I said that the series on
editing would have four parts but, since I'm currently rewriting a
book at the moment, I've had some extra thoughts on the neat, four-stage
process I've outlined… So you get a bonus part five, you lucky
Here's the deal, I firmly believe in
the four stages of revision. I believe they're excellent guidelines and a sensible, systematic way to approach editing your novel.
However, and it pains me to say this;
they might not work. Or they might not work for you at this
particular time. Or they might not work for you in that particular
order. Or for this particular book.
In stage two, for example, it's logical to tackle
the big stuff first, but if you're so paralysed by that notion that
you're unable to even open your document (this was me last week,
by the way), then you should go ahead and ignore the sensible route.
Tell yourself you're going to change something easy, something small.
The name of the comedy ferret because you've realised that
it's the name of your ex-boyfriend and you're worried he'll sue you, perhaps, or the colour of your hero's eyes which mysteriously
change from blue to brown halfway through the manuscript. The point
is, sometimes you have to take teeny tiny baby steps and telling
yourself repeatedly that you're doing things 'wrong' or 'out of the
proper order' is not going to help matters.
Maybe, your process won't look like these neat stages at all. I remember reading about a writer who wrote his second drafts entirely from scratch, without referring to his first draft at all.
In short, this series on editing is just like all
other writing advice – tips and hints which may (or may not) be useful to you. If this approach doesn't work for you, please don't be discouraged. Take what works and ignore the rest.
Also, different books require different
levels of editing. Just because you went through three (or thirty)
revisions with your last book, doesn't mean you have to repeat the
same number with the next.
Not to mention that all first drafts are not created equal. Some drafts are bloated with superfluous prose; description, characters, and sub-plots, while others are positively skeletal.
Finally, editing can be a scary business. You usually have to make things a great deal worse (i.e. messier, less coherent) before you can make it better and this is anxiety-inducing. It makes you worry that you're somehow going to 'break' your story.
Take heart from the knowledge that these fears are normal, save your manuscript as a separate document in between each editing session (so you can revert back if necessary), and be bold.