Thursday, September 12, 2013

How to Edit Your Novel

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

I talked on Monday about taking six weeks off after writing a first draft. I also talked about how finishing the first draft can feel like you've hiked up a canyon, only to realize you have another one ahead of you.

Say you've taken your six weeks off. You've opened your manuscript, and you've started reading. Some scenes are good, better than you remembered, even. Others read stiff and need some definite work.

Now what?

This is my system for edits. Use what works for you and ignore the rest!

  • I read the book in as few sittings as possible and make notes as I do. Here's a post on my editing notebooks.
  • I usually have a few big scenes that need to be added. I write those and plug them in where I think they fit best.
  • I also usually have a few plot lines that I either foreshadowed in early chapters and never followed through on, or that I came up with halfway through the first draft and now need to plant foreshadowing. Often these are just hundred or five hundred word additions to existing scenes. 
  • I take a deep breath and start line edits. First I read a scene as a whole and verify that I want to keep it. I also try to think about ways to make it stronger. After I work on the content of the scene, I go line-by-line to make everything read smoother. I tweak just about every sentence. This process takes a loooong time. I posted about how long line (or micro) edits take over the summer.
  • After I finish my micro edit, I love to take a week or two off. I can't always do that, but man, is it refreshing when I can.
  • I go through and do another line edit. I'm still changing things, still smoothing out my sentences for stronger readability, but it doesn't take so long this time.
  • I send my manuscript to my critique partners.
Don't let this very orderly list fool you. Edits can be hard, messy, overwhelming work.

I've spent my summer doing massive rewrites and edits on my fall release, The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet. To be honest, there were moments that I thought it was the best book I had written, moments when it seemed so horrible that I was embarrassed by it, moments when I wanted to ask about cancelling my contract, moments when I knew what needed to be fixed...but I didn't know how to go about it. This is when I leaned on my critique partners. Next Monday, I'm going to talk about how to handle the response from your critique partners.

Any questions about the editing process that I can help answer? 

38 comments:

  1. In the time between writing the first draft and starting editing, those six weeks, is it okay to work on another story? Or is it supposed to be entirely a break from writing?

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    1. I'm not one of the authorities on the subject, but from my readings and personal experience it's a great time to begin working on another story. ;)

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    2. Yeah, I think it's better to write during your time off. You want to keep the writing part of your brain "in shape." Like if you had just run a marathon, you might take a couple days off afterward, but you'd still run on a consistent basis. Just not for marathon-training mileage.

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    3. I agree. And I love that analogy, Hannah.

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  2. I just finished the round of edits/rewrites not that lobg ago.:-)I know it still needs work, but i font feel like going over it....again! Haha.
    Thanks for the list, maybe I'll have to some if it.:)

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  3. I love orderly lists, even when they are on such unorderly beasts such as edits. Thanks for this one, Stephanie!

    And I'll be looking forward to next week's post, too. :)

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  4. So whenever I look over my manuscript, I start reading it and think my style and voice is really cool.

    And then a little later I'll read a book by an author and see that they did a much, much better job at writing than I.

    They have better description, I don't. Their characters are deep, mine aren't. Their plots have cool and logical twists, and mine don't.

    I think I have heard before that I just need to keep writing to get better, but is that true? Will my voice or talent get better?

    I knw you were a teen writer, Did you get better? Or is it just an editing thing?

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    1. Hi, Samuel! I hope Stephanie doesn't mind my answering this from my perspective ;)

      I think you get better the more you write--just as you get better the more you play a certain instrument. But just like with music, we need someone to come in and tell us where we're messing up and what we need to fix, as a lot of the time we're too inexperienced to see our faults (or we're blinded to them because we're too proud. . .or we're too in love with our story the way it is). I know that I got to be a much better writer when I took an actual writing class. It wasn't a novel-writing class: it was an essay-writing class, but it still helped me very much.

      Anyway. To get off my soap box now. Good luck, Samuel!

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    2. I've written 3 novel-length (or very close to novel length) manuscripts, and have edited/ am currently editing them. You definitely get better the more you write, but a lot of realizing what needs work comes from editing. If you start seeing the same mistake over and over again (one of mine is random decisions from my characters- I can be a pantster), you begin to look for it while you're writing your first draft. That makes it a lot easier to edit, which helps you catch even smaller details.

      Also, remember that everyone has a different writing style. Two of my favorite authors are C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. They have very different ways of describing things, how their characters dialogue, etc. Think about some of the differences in your favorite authors. I'm not saying you don't have problems with your work (we all do), but sometimes we get so caught up in wanting to be like one particular author that we don't recognize our own unique writing style.

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    3. Thank you guys for the encouragement and help!

      (I AM SO GLAD I FOUND GO TEEN WRITERS)

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    4. I'm glad you found us too, Samuel :)

      I agree with Hannah and Rachel. Continuing to write stories will help you improve, but also continuing to learn new things about the craft of storytelling and having others critique your work. (When you feel ready for that step.)

      You might have heard me say this at OYAN (I think I said it at the panel) but the way I found out if I was "good enough" was I kept sending my stuff out to agents and editors. It was an uncomfortable but true mirror. The woman who became my first agent told me, "You have such a great voice!" And my internal reaction was, "I do? I did it? I'm good enough now?"

      I didn't have that voice when I was a teen. When I look at old manuscripts, I see that there were hints of that voice ... but you have to dig beneath all the bad technique to see it :) That voice finally matured because I kept writing stories, kept going to conferences, kept reading craft books, and kept after my dream of being a novelist. I know the same can happen for you.

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    5. Thank you Stephanie!

      That's good to know.

      Thank you all for the help!

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  5. My problem with the six weeks thing is editing huge chunks of stuff. (like a 50k novel.) It intimidates me. Like, I can edit short stories, no problem, but when it comes to a novel, I freeze. Is there a way to make it seem less... Overwhelming?

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    1. This is just a suggestion for a nobody,,,haha! But would it be easier for you if you took a couple of chapters out and edited it in a seperaye document? Or maybe if while you write it, put in 'Part 1' 'Part 2' and so on and taking them out as you edit? Hope this helped! :-)

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    2. Can you clarify what you mean by the six week thing, Allison?

      When you edit short stories, what's your process like? I'm wondering if we can adapt that for novels.

      I don't know if this is helpful or not, but I enjoy editing and I STILL get overwhelmed. Even with this last book I wrote, The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet, there were days that I seriously just stared at it and thought, "What have I done? I'm not going to be able to fix this? I wont' make my deadline." It's normal to get overwhelmed.

      What helped me to pull through it this time around was to think of the bird by bird philosophy. I didn't have to fix everything at that moment, I just needed to write this additional scene. I didn't need to fix everything, I just needed to clarify my character's emotions int his paragraph. That helps me breathe easier.

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    3. The six week break thing. :D And thanks Stephanie, it helps! :D

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  6. Oh thank you for the orderly list. It's so comforting right now. :) And I'm with Allison. It's overwhelming big time. :P I can edit articles and little random bits of writing, but whole books that need to fit together? AAAAAH!

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    1. Allison and Amanda:
      I know exactly how you feel! Last spring I took on my first serious editing adventure, and it scared me, especially being a teen writer. I would agree with Jill, especially about reading it first. Then, once you've decided your major changes (I need a new scene here, delete this character, etc.), just take it one scene at a time. Or chapter. Or whatever chunk you think is manageable. It's actually really satisfying when you see how much better it is at the end.
      Hope this helps!

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  7. Great post. I've edited my novella, but, because I feel like my writing is constantly growing, I want to keep adding more and changing my vocabulary as I'm going.

    www.alicekouzmenkowriting.blogspot.com

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  8. I have a word count goal. Example: I want the story to be 60,000 words total. But sometimes I struggle to reach the word count and I feel the need to add more plot and things into my chapters.

    Any advice when you are short on words?

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    1. I have the same problem most of the time, and I'd love to hear Stephanie and/or Jill's thoughts.

      The best advice I've heard is from Jerry B. Jenkins. I went to a conference where he was giving advice on editing, but most of his advice seemed to consist of cutting words. So I asked him how to make it work if you already have too few words. He said to tighten the existing work and think in terms of scenes instead of chapters. So, tighten what you already have and insert new scenes. For some reason that clicked for me, but he explained it better. Hope it helps.

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    2. Wow, this is a good question, and I don't think we've covered it. Let me do some brainstorming and come up with a post.

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    3. Thank you Leah and Stephanie! :)

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    4. Yay! I want to know this too, so I'm excited now :)

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  9. This is so helpful! I'm about to dive into editing my 67k novel (my longest one yet!), so this was a timely post for me. Thanks.

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  10. Thank you for posting, Stephanie! October 8 is when I can get back into my novel from my six-week break. I've started a new one and that's going to occupy most of my writing time from now till then :)

    I have a question for you. My problem is like EliMarie's and Leah Good's. The novel I'm working on right now has the potential to be far shorter than the one I just finished, and I'm not sure if I can even get it up to 50,000 words, let alone the 60- or 70,000 I'd like to have. Have you already posted on this? You've said that you're a "putter-inner" when it comes to writing books. . .do you have any advice as how to help those who are more used to thinking of themselves as "taker-outers"?

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    1. I haven't posted on it yet, Hannah. Let me do that!

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  11. Do you think it's OK to work on a lot of stories at the same time? Maybe even four or five. Or do you think you should just stick with one and work hard on it alone?
    Thanks~

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    1. This is just my personal opinion, but I like to work on 2-3 novels at a time. (Never mind that I only have 3 I'm working on at the moment...make that all time.). I'm normally doing creative writing on one, and editing on the other. That way, if I hit writers block, I can do some editing, which helps me when I'm stuck. Plus, it eliminates twiddling my fingers for a few weeks before starting editing. My main concern with doing much more than 2 (especially 5) is that I would have a tendency to get the stories or characters blended together. Also, it would be tempting for me to switch back and forth between stories all the time, and not make much forward progress at all.
      Nice name :)

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    2. Thanks for the reply.
      I laughed at you 'nice name' comment. :)

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    3. I really think it depends on the person, Rachel. Like for Rachel L. working on 2 or 3 stories seems to really work for her. But I wouldn't be able to do that. I'd be mixing up character voices and plot points all the time. So I work on one book at a time unless my editor returns something to me that they need edited in a few weeks or if my agent needs me to put together a proposal for a project. Just depends on how you're wired!

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  12. I'm sorry I haven't answered any of your questions yet, guys. I'm so sick I haven't had my computer on today. I'll get to them when I'm a bit more clear headed.

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    1. Hope you feel better soon, Stephanie! :)

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    2. Hehe, I'm not the only one who feels not really right... Big cold, you know ;-) I hope you feel better soon!

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    3. Thanks! I'm on the mend today :) Still achy and sniffly, but a bit clearer headed.

      Hope you feel better soon, Arende!

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  13. you totally ROCK!!! you always post things when i need them, THANK YOUUUU!!!!!!!!!!!! (hope you feel better SOON!!!!)



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