It's The Hard That Makes It Great

E-D-I-T-A-N-D-R-E-V-I-S-E !

Those who know me also know I have a great deal of respect for bestselling author, Margaret Moore and her expertise on rewriting and revising. All you need do is visit her blog and you'll hear her talk about her latest writing project and the grueling editing process she goes through each and every time she writes a novel. I agree with her and spend a large amount of time in edits too. The true revision process is long and not quick or easy. No one said it would be a fast track to the big print publishing houses!

A while back, Margaret wrote an article for eharlequin.com writers and I've included it below. Here's to revising and editing the heck out of our work to make it the best it can be!

Do it yourself Editing by Margaret Moore

"Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work." — Stephen King

What sort of "hard work" is Stephen King talking about? There's the creating of characters and plot, and the writing of the first draft of your scenes — your original version of what your characters are going to say and do. But that's only the beginning.

After the first draft of a book or scene come the heavy lifting, the grunt work, the final shaping and polishing of the gem: editing your work to ensure that you have used the most appropriate words in the best order to create fascinating, believable characters in a dramatically interesting story.

There are three basic stages in my editing process. The first thing I do when I finish the first draft of the entire novel is to read it through completely, looking at what I've included in the story and the way I've organized the scenes. I'm focusing on the big picture; particularly, the development of the romance and overall pacing.

Have I organized the scenes so that the romance progresses as it should? Have I put the scenes in the order that best maximizes dramatic tension? Do I have any dead ends and "deadwood" — scenes or paragraphs that had a purpose when I first wrote them, but now contribute nothing to the overall story line and developing romance, and in fact, bog it down? Does a scene deepen the conflict between the hero and heroine, or within those characters? Have I shown the scene from the best point of view for maximum dramatic effect?

I input those changes and create another draft of the manuscript, which I read through again. Major alterations may still be made, but I'm less likely to move huge blocks of text. What I'm looking for here is to make sure my previous changes have led to improvements in pacing and tension, and the development of the romance. I check for consistency of mood and tone, and smooth transitions. The reader shouldn't be able to tell that I've moved a scene from one chapter to another, or shifted a chunk of dialogue. The story should flow easily, so that it reads as if I wrote it in one sitting.

I'm also checking the chapter endings to make sure each chapter concludes in a way that's going to encourage the reader to keep reading. (Tip o' the day: never ever end a chapter with a character going to sleep. Talk about encouraging a reader to do the same!)

Another step in the self-editing process is polishing the manuscript: checking for repetition of words and phrases, that details are consistent, dialogue is easy to follow and that I've avoided passive verbs wherever possible in favor of stronger action verbs.

This process isn't limited to the end of the editing process, however. I do this continually, every time I work on a scene. Does that mean that I've polished something that then gets cut? Unfortunately, yes. But the goal is to make my book the very best it can be, so if it's gotta go, it's gotta go.

Here are my basic rules for revising and editing:

Be ruthless. Nothing you write is sacred, ever.
When in doubt, cut it out. If it doesn't "feel" right, it probably isn't.
Never throw anything away. For every draft, I create a "dump" file. Everything I've deleted from a chapter goes there. You never know, you might need it. I seem to recall salvaging a line of prose from a dump file once. I also save every draft. Sometimes I realize that what I had originally written works better than the new version, so I go back and get the original. If you know you can retrieve the original work, cutting and changing isn't so painful.

Know your strengths and your weaknesses. Sorry, folks, but this is something you can really only learn by writing and having someone offer feedback, whether it's a critique partner or an editor. Once you have a handle on that, it will guide you through the editing process. If I have to cut, it's not going to be something that represents one of my strengths. If I know my weakness, that portion of the manuscript's going to be more scrutinized.

So, once I've done all that, I'm finished, right? Nope. Then my editor reads the book and, depending on her feedback, I start the whole process over again.

Writing isn't easy. Rewriting can be downright painful. But remember that line in A League of Their Own? "It's the hard that makes it great."

Or as Somerset Maugham once said, "Only a mediocre writer is always at his best."


Suzanne said...

What wonderful advice. Thank you for posting this, Kaye.

Emma Lai said...

Thanks for the great info, Kaye!

Shelley Munro said...

That is great advice. Drafts become books during the editing process. It's a magical process.

Linda Banche said...

A woman after my own heart. I thought I was crazy because I write and reread, write and reread, write and reread multiple times, and then again. And then off it goes to the editor, it comes back and I do it again. Maybe I'm on the right track.

Cari Quinn said...

I've read this article before, Kaye, and it's definitely a keeper! Lots of great advice. Thanks for posting it! :)

Catherine Bybee said...

What great advice... as everyone here has said. At some point it does need to go into the world to see how it will do.

Helen Hardt said...

That Stephen King quote is one of my favorites, and so true! Wonderful article -- thank you for posting it, Kaye!

Kaye Manro said...

It's good to see everyone here-- I have to say, I really like editing. It lets me see what I want to fix or change. But yes, we do have to send our work out into the world, where the edits begin all over again!

Suzanne Brandyn said...

Great post Kaye,
Thanks for putting it up. I love hearing what other writers do. Good advice as well. :)

Suzanne Brandyn said...

OH, yes...I don't mind editing as well seeing I have spent almost two years with a publishing house of romance. I love helping other writers it gives me so much satisfaction. :)
I have been told I'm good at what I do, yet I can't see it in my own work. I find some problems, but just don't see the others. Thank heavens for critique partners :)

Christina Phillips said...

I'm in the middle of the editing process, and it's hard, hard work. But I enjoy it, even though it gives me headaches and make my eyes sore! Thanks for posting this article, Kaye!

Debs said...

Great and useful advice, especially about never ending a chapter with a character going to sleep.

I checked my ms during a previous edit, and found I'd done this a couple of times!