Probably the worst guide to editing, ever

Over the last few years I’ve read, and watched, a lot of guides about how to edit a novel. I’ve also looked at a lot of methods for outlining and planning a novel. I did this mostly out of curiosity, to see if there was a more effective way to edit, whether I could tighten up the structure. And as promising as some of these methods sound, I think I’m still going to stick with what I know works for me.

I think, as a writer, you figure out pretty quickly how you tend to operate when it comes to your writing habits. I’ve always known, for instance, that when it comes to planning I’m rigid about certain things, and laissez-faire about others. I need to know where the story starts and ends, and I’ll have key scenes that must happen. I need to have a detailed profile for each major character, so I can always refer back to the profile if I think I’ve made a continuity error. But I can be in the middle of writing a scene and realise as I’m going along that I need to change something about it — whether it’s a single moment, or an action or feature — and change it there and then. Or I’ll add in a scene that I hadn’t even considered before, but fits perfectly in the context of whatever is happening. This flexibility is important as it allows me to constantly assess whether the story is going in the right direction, whether scenes link together as they are supposed to, and that characters are acting within their personality and arc. My writing process is like a human body — the skeleton of key plot points stays the same, but the skin and organs and appearance are constantly renewing and changing. I’ve always done it this way, and it makes me love writing even more because it feels organic and exciting while I still have a structure to follow, and an end goal to reach. I’m completely disorganised when it comes to word count and having a schedule; since writing has always been a hobby I write when I feel like it, for as long as I feel like it, and let the story grow as it needs to. So…not exactly what a dedicated writer is supposed to do.

My editing process is very simple — I spend an equal amount of time writing as I do going back to earlier scenes, re-reading them, changing them as needed, often reading aloud to make sure sentences are flowing as they should. I rarely make big changes, but instead thousands of small adjustments along the way. My personal benefit of this method is that I never lose sight of the backbone of the story and I can remain consistent in terms of details like times, dates, locations, descriptions. It also means that although my book is one word document, and always has been, some sections are technically on their tenth draft. Others are on their third or fourth. The first chapter has probably been edited close to fifty times. What I usually find is that I know when I’ve written something well, and when something is weak, so I know exactly what scenes I need to spend the most time on. Usually it’s just changing a sentence, or taking out unnecessary words, occasionally rewriting a paragraph. Sometimes I’ll make more drastic changes, such as changing the order of scenes so the timing is more appropriate, but this is rare. I’ll probably never reach a point where every scene is on exactly the same ‘draft’ but that’s OK with me. Some of them don’t need to be edited fifty times. Some only need a couple of small changes and I’m satisfied. As long as the entire novel reads well, then I know I’ve done what I need to.

I’ve also never been someone who has struggled with spelling or grammar, so that makes things a hell of a lot easier in terms of editing. Occasionally I might get a bit overexcited with my semicolons and have to adjust a few sentences, but on the whole these elements are very sound, and I have never really needed to worry about them. I realise this could brand me as being an unprofessional or lazy editor, but the truth is that I’m a perfectionist, and I never leave any stone unturned. Over the course of my writing process I’ll go over every single line in the book more than once, making sure it’s correct with the rest of the novel, making sure it is structurally sound. I just don’t do it all in one go, and it means that if I make a change somewhere, I know exactly which other sections or lines need to be looked at again to make sure I’m being consistent all the way through. The major drawback is that I’m never completely finished.

I’m sure that if I do get my dream of being a published author, my habits will have to change. I might have deadlines, for the first time. I’ll need to have more structure and figure out how much I need to write in a day. But for now, I’m happy with what I’m doing.

Do you have any unusual methods or habits when you’re writing and editing? Let me know, because I’d love to hear about it!

Till next time,