The End of an Edit

Laugh at me if you like but I don’t mind admitting that when I reached the final page of THE BIG EDIT (TBE), I felt a bit emotional. If it hadn’t been a school night, I would’ve popped a celebratory cork (any excuse, I know).

download (2)It feels like I’ve been working on TBE for a looong time! In reality, I started the process last September and seven months later I’ve finally finished. In the course of TBE, I somehow managed to increase the word count by almost 20k. This wasn’t a conscious decision to pad out the story, it was simply the realisation that there were gaps all over the place and certain scenes were under-written. My writing can be dialogue heavy and I often forget that a bit more description is required to create a sense of place. So by darning a few holes here and there, the total word count is now 102k.

This is the third novel I’ve written and I’ve used an entirely different approach – the freefall method. I’ve blogged before about the pros and cons of the freefall method and the main negative is that TBE has taken much much longer than I’d have liked as my first draft was rougher than rough with hunners of typos, plot inconsistences, repetitive words and phrases – pretty guff in fact.  No wonder it’s taken me forever to reach page 364!

imagesI also used a new process for TBE. This time, I printed off the manuscript as I find it easier to spot mistakes on paper than on the screen. Picturing myself as Miss Jean Brodie, I unleashed my red pen until most pages had suffered a bloodbath of ink. I did the paper edit a few pages at a time and then read these pages aloud. Hearing the rhythm of the words really helped spot clunky phrases before I made any changes on screen. It was a three part process – edit on paper, edit aloud, edit on screen.

Hopefully TBE will have been worth all the time and effort and it means that I can now take the next step. After a few more minor tweaks (there’s always a better word, phrase…) I need to take a deep breath and send it to my two beta readers – both willing victims close friends. I’ve asked my colleague Anne Glennie, a literacy expert and writer Karen Campbell, my unofficial mentor to cast their critical eyes over my manuscript and offer their initial thoughts. I know from previous experience that they will give me honest feedback and not just tell me what I want to hear. There’s no point in asking your pal to massage your ego when you need a genuine critique although I hope they’re not too harsh…



What’s your editing process? Do you use trusted beta readers to give you initial feedback?




19 thoughts on “The End of an Edit

  1. Well done! What an amazing achievement, I’m sure it’ll be well received by your Beta Readers 🙂 I really like the sound of your 3 step editing process. I’m editing each chapter and printing them off as I go, with the intention of reading it all in one go after a few weeks in a drawer, then taking a red pen to it. I read my work aloud in my writers group and it’s amazing what you can pick up that would’ve gone unnoticed otherwise! Best of luck 🙂

    • Thanks Catherine. You’re so right about reading aloud making a huge difference to the editing process. It’s daunting at the start to set yourself the task of reading, and rereading every word but there’s no doubt that it’s an essential step. All the best with your WIP 🙂

  2. Congratulations on finishing your edit. I also need to look at my work in some different format to edit it. I write in a mix of by hand in a journal and typing straight into Word. By hand always give me a chance to make a valuable first edit as I type up. Just recently I’ve taken to downloading my work to ebook format and reading it on my Kindle, adding notes as I go along. I seem to pick up a lot more this way. There are drawbacks though. I’m in the process of dealing with a block of notes at the moment and have discovered that I need to put more detail in them as I keep asking myself why I’ve highlighted something.

    • Hi Lesley, Thanks and good to hear how you edit your work. My beta reader Anne finds that downloading work on to her Kindle means that she sees the text in the same format as a book and this helps her spot problems. I very rarely write anything other than bullet point notes by hand as my handwriting is so bad – I can’t even read it back to myself later! I like being able to cut and paste paragraphs in Word and would struggle now to not have that option. All the best with making sense of your notes 🙂

  3. Congratulations on finishing the first draft, Helen. I’m now at that stage myself and about to edit. Good to see I’m in good company not only with your 3 step process but the dialogue driven method! Having to fill in gaps with description etc, But now at my back I hear – the publisher screaming in my ear – when’s the 2nd blast going to appear!

  4. Seven months? That’s not slow, that’s incredible (by my standards anyway). Congratulations on reaching ‘the end’. Hope the next stage goes well.

    I do have people who read mine but they come very late to the process these days. I think (hope?) I’ve become much better at seeing what’s not working. My WIP is going to a couple of people in the next week or so, I guess I’ll know then!

    • Thanks Naomi. I think the seven months feels so long to me as I’m desperate to get to the next stage and actually let someone read it. It’s a long time to wait for any sort of feedback as I’m inpatient by nature. Like you, I wouldn’t let anyone read a very early draft as too much feedback too soon can leave me confused. I hope too that I’ve learned by my mistakes and so number 3 novel is hopefully better than the other 2!
      What are you writing? Or can’t you say too much? I follow your review blog but wondered if you also blog about your own writing? All the best with feedback on your WIP.

      • Third novel, wow! That’s brilliant.

        I’m writing a novel. I started it on my MA which I completed in 2010 and then the book languished for ages (while I went back to teaching) until last summer when I really started to take it seriously again. I’ve changed the year it’s set in and a fundamental plot point too so I’ve been doing a huge structural edit which has been worth it but gutting when you’re chucking whole chapters away!

        I don’t blog about it. Oddly I love reading about other people’s process but don’t want to write about my own at the moment; it all feels a bit too raw and such a steep learning curve. Maybe I’ll reflect on it in public once I can look back.

      • Hi Naomi, I admire your ability to pick up a previous project and breathe new life into it. It’s a shame you don’t blog about your writing process as I enjoy your review blog and would love to hear more about the writer behind the reviewer. Hope you’ll share your thoughts one day – no pressure! 😉

  5. Congratulations, Helen, especially for having the determination to stick with a different method from the one you’re used to. And all when you have a busy job – I really take my hat off to you.
    I don’t have any beta readers (although I’m not convinced I know what that means): I do have one friend ( a voracious reader) who enjoys in-depth discussions about plot/character permutations as I’m re-drafting – good to do while walking dogs! I recently took the decision to pay an experienced editor when I was on draft five of my third book: she is fearless in suggesting major changes, and I knew it had been worth the spend when I felt one of those jolts of a perception shift and all of a sudden saw where my book was lacking (with me, the big weakness is characterisation).
    I used to belong to a writers’ group, but that wasn’t a positive experience – it seems to me they have to be very well run and tightly structured to be of benefit, which requires a fair bit of work on the part of somebody. Otherwise they end up at best wishy-washy and at worst a rather destructive waste of time.
    Best wishes for the next stage of your book!

    • Hi Susan, Good to hear from you and thanks. Please excuse the use of the fancy term ‘beta reader’, it’s just a label for someone who reads your work before it gets unleashed on to the general public. I’ve heard other recommendations of using a professional editor. I think it would be a wise investment but as I’ve already spent so much over the years on writing I don’t feel I can justify the expense (and I’m lucky to have friends with literary knowledge). I also agree that writers’ groups are only as good as the person facilitating them. With the right combo of folk they can work really well but my concern is that those attending wouldn’t necessarily be my target reader and wouldn’t ‘get’ my writing. All the best with your WIP too.

    • Thanks Anita. I’d definitely recommend using the freefall method. For me, it helped get the story down quicker and kept the momentum going without worrying about editing as you go.

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