So now that I find myself in the rather smug position of having finished the edits on my second novel (picture me in a smoking jacket with a cuban cigar!) I thought I’d share a few simple tips that I’ve learned along the way.
- Step away from the manuscript! The best thing you can do for your manuscript and yourself is to take a break after typing ‘The End’. How long that break will be is up to you. For me, I left it alone for about a month. The reason for this is that when you come back to it, you will see your writing with fresh(er) eyes and be in a much better position to view your work objectively.
- Do a full read-through. After taking a break from your novel, it’s a good idea to read through from start to finish – without correcting or editing at this point. It will give you a good idea of how well the story flows and if the pace and structure have any weak areas. Try and come to the work like a potential reader and ask yourself if you are gripped by the plot and the characters.
- The nitty-gritty. Well, there’s no more putting it off. You have to get in there and start editing proper. I prefer to print my manuscript and mark mistakes with red pen, using the margins to suggest re-writes and solutions to plot holes.
- Alpha and Beta readers. I used to be extremely protective of my work and hated the thought of anyone reading it before I thought it was perfect. However, that’s a really dumb idea! A good alpha reader (i.e. someone whose opinion you respect and trust) can offer you invaluable feedback on your writing. As Neil Gaiman says: “When people tell you somethings wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
- Read your work aloud. I actually got this tip off Joanne Harris (not personally – I would have definitely blogged about that!). She advises reading your manuscript aloud and I have to say, it really works! It’s kind of surprising, but it certainly draws your attention to those clunky sentences that just don’t work. It’s also extremely helpful when it comes to dialogue, highlighting each character’s unique way of speaking.
- Take another break. Hurray! It sounds like all I do is take time off from writing 🙂 But when you’re deep in the editing process, it’s easy to lose sight of the novel as a whole. After addressing any issues raised with beta readers, I leave the manuscript for about a week, then I have one last read-through to pick up any remaining issues.
And that’s it people – easy-peesy! Obviously, hiring an editor would be the ideal situation, but for a lot of authors, the costs can be prohibitive. Perhaps you’ll get a copy edit or a structural edit, but at the end of the day, this is your baby and you have to take responsibility for the end product. How many times have your read a traditionally published book by a reputable publisher and found mistakes? Therefore it is vital that you take the editing process as seriously as the writing process itself. They require two very different approaches; one is all creativity and flowing juices and imagination gone wild, the other is structured, fact-based and slavishly detail oriented. There is no room for sentiment when editing, which is why it’s probably a good idea to get someone else to do it! But I believe that by following these steps, you can detach yourself from the work just enough to make the kind of ruthless decisions that will ultimately make your book the best it can be. If you have picked up any valuable tips during the editing process, please share your insights.