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Editing--What's Your Bag? (1 Viewer)

Chris Stevenson

Senior Member

Once again, another topic arose at AW which I thought might be an interesting foray. The answers to proper editing technique is diverse—everyone has their own way—a technique that works best for them. There are two basic approaches and either one is fitting. There is no wrong or right way. There is a third, more complicated way that we can touch on.


I really feel the fun and excitement in writing a first draft novel. I get totally zoned out and focus on my world. I demand to be left alone for three months when this happens. I don't outline--my next scene/scenes are popping in my head as I write the current one. The book leads me where it wants to flow. The characters make me take dictation--it seems they want to run the show and do what they want. I don't let my characters run rampant, but install little checks and balances for them. The plot wants to go where the conflict is heaviest. For my pace, I can't have any lengthily dinner scenes, shopping, walks in the park, with meaningless character dialogue--I'm very guilty of this in the past and it kills my pace. So once I'm in my new world, I'm trapped there until I find my way out. That means THE END.

First editing draft: I've taken Anne Rice's advice and adopted her writing ritual. I'll write in a fever then back up about four or five pages and edit the hell out of it. That means as much structural and copy-editing (and other areas) as I can stand. Structural problems mean I've made a big goof somewhere, but I'll still go to the source and try and fix it as best I can. Then I forge on and repeat. I'm simply accelerating and then hitting reverse. That way, the first editing draft doesn't fill me dread and I can still move along fairly fast. For me, storytelling is fun--editing is blistering work. I want the easiest transition I can get between the two. I've heard lots of people say that they edit while they write--I think it's the same thing.

There are some who might take this approach and go back to edit a chapter, or maybe two or three and then pick up again. That means a break in the writing and a chance that you could lose the momentum and thread. But it also means there will be less “work” in the following editing drafts. So you can relax a little more and not fret over the “monster that is to come.” Caveat: I’m still going to make several editing passes, but I’m knocking out as much as the hard stuff as possible in the backward pass.


That’s exactly what it sounds like—writing through the first draft as quickly as possible, staying filled with that white-hot fit of inspiration—blasting through. Some writers have to do this or else they’ll fall off their pace and let the story go static for even a short amount of time. They haven’t got the time or impetus to worry about editing at this stage. These people are sometimes loath to stop, believing that the first novel draft presents the most difficulty. It’s a great strategy, and I’m sure we’ve all heard the comment from the pros and instructors: “you have permission to write shit. It’ll be cleaned up in the editing process.” This is a very popular style, if not the most popular one.

There’s no doubt that getting that first written novel draft completed deserves a medal valor, and it really does. These writers actually like/love the first (and subsequent) editing drafts because it gives them a great feeling of accomplishment in fashioning a diamond out of a lump of coal. This is also the time for them to cut or add words, chapters, characters, and scenes as they see fit or if it’s needed (structural). Writing the book is the difficult part for them. That’s where most of the doubts, foul-ups and blocks are experienced. Even if they’ve outlined, they view that first novel draft as a daunting task, wondering if they will ever finish it. If they decide to pull out and trunk the project after they’ve hit the end, hey! There was no harm done and certainly less work invested.


There has to be something said about concentrated editing in different areas and making those first, second, third, fourth and fifth editing passes, suffering through individual stages. Actually, “suffering” is kind of a strong word. I think we all make multiple editing passes. There are only a select few professionals who can edit as they go and come out with a shiny manuscript that is near perfect. Anne Rice is one of them. We’re not Anne.

What stages are important? Well, what’s important to you? Where are your weak spots? This can include passive/active, continuity, copy-editing, proofing, structural editing, pace and so on. I’ll make about three editing passes, taking up two of these areas in one pass. Or I’ll go right on down the line and hit all six each for six edits. But they will be very light and fast because I’ve already been there. You can really specialize and concentrate on one, and only one area from the very beginning, and I’ve done this before to really focus on special problems. I call it target editing. I have a problem with passive and active, so that one is a slow, precise go for me. Continuity is another.

With a large book, multiple stage editing can take a VERY long time. If you don’t mind the process, chances are your final copy is really going to shine with a high gloss finish. There are some writers who love this type of editing and they don’t mind the time invested.

Yeah, I hate to admit it but writing is rewriting. It’s my necessary evil and I hate it.

Whatever you decide, keep a positive attitude. Try not to listen to those little Debbie Downer muses that hang around and tell you that your story is nothing but a crock and you’re wasting your time. Always remember that another pair of eyes will see something totally different in what you’ve scribbled.


Senior Member
I tend to create an outline with which I'm not exactly tied down to. I give myself a lot of breathing room and possibilities to shape the story better in the ongoing drafts, but I tend to use the outline as a general basis for the first draft. This means that I'm focusing more on getting the general gist of the first draft down and not stopping and going into editing mode. I remember when I used to write 10,000 outlines for a story half the length, and I was too focused on creating an idea that would never materialize. It was only when I realized that the first draft is pretty much a much more detailed treatment but barebone structure of the entire story really. That's how I've learnt to do it anyway.

Justin Attas

Senior Member
Edit as You Go

This is me. 100%. I rarely finish a paragraph without thinking "Hmm... was that really the best way to say X or Y?" I go back, rewrite it, and proceed. At first it was super time-consuming, but now I've polished my process a bit, it's pretty streamlined.


Senior Member
I blast through the first draft. Walk away from the story for a week or so, then go back and edit. Then walk away from it, and visit it a couple of weeks later and edit/rewrite. Different writers approach this whole thing in different ways. I find that if I edit as I go, it halts the creative flow, and it can end up in writer's block.

IMO, "Creative Mind" is far different than, "Editor's Mind." I do my best to keep them in their respective corners.

Ralph Rotten

Staff member
Media Manager
I used to write straight through, then pause a week or 2, then edit ad nauseum.

But there is a downside to that: it's essentially like firing an unguided rocket, and you have to hope it hits the mark, or you are gonna have to go back and make substantial course corrections (and it can get really ugly with bigger books.)

But a few books ago I started doing doublebacks.
The philosophy is this: Your characters are weakest at the beginning of the book because you only just met them.
Until you write those first 100 pages (or so) you really don't know 'em.
But the beginning of the book is where your characters need to be the strongest.
So I write those first 100 pages, then doubleback and strengthen the characters and make sure the rocket is on the right trajectory.
After that I doubleback every 100 pages or so.
When I get done, that first read-thru is bliss. The characters are tight, the story is solid, and I am able to find enough motivation to finish the process*

*Writing a book is like icebergs: The part of the berg that sticks out above the waterline is the actual writing part of the process. You still have a lotta iceberg under the waterline.


Senior Member
I am finding that lately, I'm writing a few pages, and when I get to a natural pause, or when I'm in the midst of a good flow, I'll stop and edit what I've got so far, and then continue on. It seems to work okay. It's like azimuth correction. If, in the beginning, you get off the mark a little, by the time you're five or six chapters along, you're so far afield, editing becomes a daunting task.


Senior Member
For me, it's kind of mixed.

The first story I wrote was outlined, then blasted through, then edited. For my second story, I wrote a chapter, edited it, then wrote another chapter.

For my latest one, I worked until it was nearly finished when I realized I wanted to make some critical changes to the story. So I began rewriting, and for some reason it's just been such a sluggish task.

In summary: I'd like to start with a general outline, then fill in the gaps, then edit, but sometimes that just doesn't happen.
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Senior Member
Trying to get to 2 draft process but first time done that so I see how it has worked by end of it.

Ralph Rotten

Staff member
Media Manager
I am finding that lately, I'm writing a few pages, and when I get to a natural pause, or when I'm in the midst of a good flow, I'll stop and edit what I've got so far, and then continue on. It seems to work okay. It's like azimuth correction. If, in the beginning, you get off the mark a little, by the time you're five or six chapters along, you're so far afield, editing becomes a daunting task.

If you write the whole thing, editing can be a huuuuge ordeal, and may deter [scare] you from writing more.
So I try to edit in bite-sized portions while the trajectory is still easy to correct.
With bigger books (+150k) the editing can be truly overwhelming.


Senior Member
I write straight through, then go back and edit. Because I write to a strict outline, I virtually never have to go back and make major changes. I know the story I'm telling, I'm just polishing the second or third time through.