I want to thank Cassie so much for talking about her editing process. I am still in the process of learning how I edit, so I am always looking to other writers to see how they manage the beast.
Most of my family is creative but my father is defiantly an accountant. When I’m editing, I unleash my latent accountant genes. Editing is a skill distinct from writing. All writers have to enter the editing process to turn a beautiful creative mess into something publishable.
When I’m in the creative process, I don’t let the editing hat anywhere near my head. I keep a document in my project folder titled Editing Notes. When I’m writing creatively and notice something that needs checking, I open the editing document, make a note, and go back to writing.
When a first draft is done, I do the happy writer’s chair dance for a minute, then take a deep breath – it’s time to go into editing mode. There are layers of editing; when doing one, I try not to worry about the others. The first is a substantive edit, checking for theme, continuity, the overall arc, and effectiveness of the story, then chapter, scene, paragraph, sentence, and word. Last comes proofreading for clarity and copy-editing for grammar and punctuation.
I start big and work my way down to the small. There’s no use spending hours polishing grammar and punctuation in a section I might end up cutting completely. After dealing with the entire story, I break up the editing chores into manageable pieces. I’d go mad at the thought of checking for commas for three hundred pages straight, but I can manage a few pages at a time.
When dealing with multiple characters, time frames, and story lines, my inner accountant/editor gets very happy and I use spreadsheets. I had a spreadsheet for the time frame, spacing, and organization of each of the story lines in Dance, Gladys, Dance (Frieda’s normal life issues, Ginny’s fork troubles, Gladys’ story from the 1900s, the flashbacks to Frieda’s past, and for each of the other characters). I also use spreadsheets for editing lists. I love to put a little checkmark in each box for a completed edit.
I think people with unfinished works often have gone into editing mode or into the lower levels of editing too soon. Editing the small (adding and removing commas) imparts a feeling of control over the beast but it’s easy to get addicted to that feeling of authority. At some point, you have to wrestle the alligator, complete the work, and deal with the larger issues of the narrative as a whole.
After the alligator has been subdued and the accountant has all the boxes pleasingly ticked, another set of eyes is essential. I let go of the misunderstood genius schtick (not that I’m very good at it anyway) and listen carefully to what my early readers tell me.
Thanks so much Cassie! Guys, pop back tomorrow for my review of Cassie’s wonderful book, Dance, Gladys, Dance and a giveaway for my fellow Canucks.