How To Edit: Lessons Learned the Hard Way — An Inky Mess

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.

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.
    • 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 the 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 trying 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 solitary 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.
  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.

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.

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via How To Edit: Lessons Learned the Hard Way — An Inky Mess

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