Friday, March 16, 2012

One Writer’s Editing Process

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Red penAfter my post Wednesday on writing multiple books a year, I got some questions on Twitter and via email about my editing approach. I thought I’d tackle that topic today.

First off, I want to stress that—like writing—not every editing method works out best for every writer.

This is my method and I’m probably fast at it because 1) I’ve practiced it a lot 2) I note all editorial feedback and use it for future books 3) I read quickly 4) I make quick decisions on my manuscript’s changes.

I just finished a book on Wednesday and this is the process I’ll use to edit the book:

I read the book from start to finish. As I’m reading, I put in chapter breaks (I don’t put in chapter breaks as I draft the book.)

During my first read-through I fix easy errors like typos or poor word choice. I make sure there’s variety in my sentence structure, I add strong verbs…I basically work to make the book better on a very basic level.

I also turn on Word’s Track Changes and use their comment feature to make notes to myself. I make comments in the margins character description, setting details, character motivation, etc. That way I can go back and layer in those changes when I’m done reading through the book.

I make a pass for continuity errors, which are very frequent errors of mine, since I write in short chunks of time without looking at the previous day’s writing. During this pass, I’ll also make sure my scene transitions are smooth and that story elements are consistent.

This time I’m also going to make a special pass for echoes—unintentional word repetition. I always do a search for my favorite overused words/crutch words (just, nodded, sighed), but this will be a new pass for a related area since my last manuscript had a lot of echoes in it.

I’ll make a pass for pace (this includes looking for conflict) and strong characterization. Is the story moving along at a fast enough clip? Are there boring parts? Do my characters pop? Are there weak characters who need additional fluffing up? I’ll also eliminate some of my weak word choices (little, very, so, really, some, seem, maybe) and some filter words (to provide a deeper POV).

Because the timeline is so crucial to mysteries, I’ll have a pass where I chart out suspect timelines and make sure my sleuth knew what she knew when she knew it. While I’m doing this, I make sure the solution makes sense and there were enough clues for the reader to reach the same conclusion my sleuth did. I also look for any potential plot holes during this timeline pass.

I go through and address the problems/issues that I found.

Then I read it through again to get the big picture view. And I make sure the subplots and main plot wrap up at the end. When I find more problems, I address those as I go.

Then usually I’ll read it through again, quickly, and frequently aloud. And I make the corrections that my first reader (thanks, Mama) finds. And read it through again (yes, by this time I’m heartily sick of the book).

I can do this all in about a week. It’s a different process than the creative process, so I can write at the same time and not feel any sense of burnout.

Then I immediately hand it all over to qualified professionals. :) In the case of my Memphis Barbeque mysteries and my Southern Quilting mysteries, the manuscript goes right to my managing editor. Then it goes to various copyeditors and proofreaders. In the case of my Myrtle Clover mysteries, I hire freelance editors to take a good, hard, critical look at my books. I’ve got a free directory of freelance editors here.

What’s your editing process like? What types of things are you looking out for?