Monday, December 6, 2010

Yes, Virginia, There Is A Wrong Way To Edit

When I first decided to wander down the road that would hopefully lead to publication, I made a lot of mistakes. Unfortunately one of them was in the editing department. After a lot of reading on loops and blogs I know I’m far from the only newb who made this mistake.

After I plowed through my first serious attempt at a manuscript and typed the magical words “The End”, I went to page one, read the first sentence, then proceeded to make it a much better sentence. Then I did the same for the second sentence and soon I had a beautiful first paragraph. And so on. Yeah. I did it. I edited a nice big chunk of the manuscript and then a terrible thing happened. A plot hole. Uh oh. What to do? So I fixed the plot hole—after major revision. Revision that branched back into sections that I had already painstakingly edited. No problem. Just edit it again.

So I worked further through the manuscript and guess what. Yeah, another plot hole that required revision back through previously edited work. Somewhere after about the twelfth edit I fixed all of the structural problems with the manuscript, but I hadn’t yet learned my lesson. And it really pains me to own up to that one. Because when I started my second novel I made the same mistake again. (Okay these weren’t really my first and second novels… There are three trunk novels that I don’t like to talk about that I wrote a very long time ago just to see if I could stick with it and produce novel length work. Those stinkers were never edited. And never will be.)

And this isn’t the only sin I committed that made editing all the more difficult. I have a bad habit (I still do this one…can’t seem to stop myself) of reading back through previous work and editing a bit as I go. Total freakin waste of time, but I do it anyway.

This is small picture editing. Don’t do it. Save yourself before it’s too late. Fix subplots first. When those are correct, work on the structure of the main story line. When the story is correct, when the plot is solid from beginning to end, then go back and make the line edits to make your sentences pretty and correct. Otherwise, you may never finish, and if you do finish you are going to spend a huge amount of time on editing to get to the point that you have a story and pretty sentences.

What are your editing mistakes? What have you learned to make it easier on yourself?


  1. Great topic! I have done the same thing...and had the same results. That "spit and polish" edit needs to come at the very end. I guess the thing that helps me the most is after finishing the first draft, I do what I call a "plot arc," which is basically boiling each scene into a sentence that ends with "and then..." to make sure each scene properly leads into the next. I usually ferret out any plot holes that way, if I have an "and then..." that never gets answered :-)

  2. Oh, I like that "and then" idea. I think I may try that with my current first draft.

  3. I just went through the first, second and third edits with an actual editor and discovered several things to look at before I submit again. Mainly the filler word delimma and the dreaded 'beginning to' stuff.

    Stuff is gonna be cleaner from now on! Look for those things you think you don't need to because you don't do it. Because you probably do.

  4. OMG Maureen, you're probably right.

  5. I engage in this type of behaviour as well.
    I think it's my attempt to continue to work when I've hit the writers wall (when the words just won't flow).