I’m in the final, final, final stages of editing for my novel Nothing’s Ever Lost and I’m trying to edit fast. I say final final final because this manuscript has already gone through more editing than I ever would have thought possible:
- My writers’ critique group edited it chapter by chapter as I wrote it.
- I did a major structural edit and then a line edit on my own before I started querying agents.
- After someone I trusted in the publishing industry looked at it, I did another major edit that led to some rearrangement and new scenes. That necessitated another line edit because things got messy.
Then it sat in the cloud for about a year. I didn’t look at it. I thought about it a lot, but only as a book I would like to publish. I didn’t think about plot structure or character development. Finally, when I decided to independently publish, I printed the whole thing off and read through it in a long weekend.
In that read-through I found errors, unclear passages and inconsistencies. I wondered how they made it through all of those previous rounds of edits. Since that long weekend, I’ve edited at least a chapter a day everyday, going through it line by line fixing all the broken pieces.
Some of the problem areas I’d known about, but I didn’t know how to fix. I’d convinced myself it was fine the way it was. Others I’d never realized were a problem until that last read-through. What’s more interesting is: the solutions to most of these issues are glaringly obvious. Just move this section over there … Well clearly they need to talk about this…This character wouldn’t say that, reword.
A lot of authors talk about letting your piece sit for awhile and coming back to it with fresh eyes. Clearly that’s valuable. Most authors say you have to create distance between yourself and the manuscript if you want to edit it well. But I actually think there’s something simpler going on here.
You get better all the time. If you’re a practicing writer – that is, if you’re writing regularly – you’re improving regularly too. Problems of plot and pacing and voice are easier to deal with as your skill improves.
That’s why I recommend editing fast. Yes, put that manuscript in a drawer for a month or a year if you can. But when you come back to it ready to edit, get the edits done as quickly as you can. If you take weeks or months to edit each chapter you’ll find that your skill level has increased so much by the end that the beginning needs to be edited all over again.
Your manuscript will never be perfect. It will always be only the best you could do with your level of knowledge at the time. And that’s okay. If you stretch your editing out over months and years. If you insist on “one last pass” trying to get everything perfect, you will never publish.
Do the best work you can. Hand it off to someone with a good editorial eye (preferably an experienced professional editor) and then move on to the next project. Your best work is always the work you’re about to do.
So write fast. Edit fast. And keep getting better.