Which Edit is Final?

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I’ve written on this subject before, but as I finalize GONE VIRAL, the third book in the Miles Stevens series, I’m once again immersed in revisions.

It can rightfully be stated that editing is the most important step in writing. When I finish the first draft of a novel or short story, I find little reason to light up cigars or start knocking back shots of bourbon. In fact, the weeks and months that follow are the toughest, but can be the most rewarding.

I’m not alone in this thinking. Acclaimed and aspiring writers agree editing is a necessary labor of the craft. Here are a few quotes I think capture the subject well:

“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.” — Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

“I’ve found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it.” – Don Roff

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” –Shannon Hale

Good editing is necessary but not sufficient to producing a successful novel. Editing can’t make a bad novel great, but done well, can make any novel better. As an aspiring writer, my goal is to improve my stories and novels through multi-step, focused editing.

What do I mean by multi-step, focused editing? It’s a process that has evolved over the years, and as a result, my recent books are probably better edited than my earlier novels. As a test, I recently submitted my collection of short stories, IT GOES ON, to the Writer’s Digest self-published book competition. The judges review and rate submitted books from 1 “needs improvement” to 5 “outstanding” in several areas. My book received high ratings in the areas of editing and formatting.

I now use a four-step edit process. My first edit after completing the draft is to read the manuscript end to end, looking mainly at the continuity and flow of the story. I focus on character and plot development, as well as ensure places, dates, names, etc. are consistent. If I see errors in grammar or overused words, I’ll fix them, but that isn’t my focus on this first pass.

I’m fortunate to be married to a former newspaper and magazine editor. I turn my manuscript over to Claudia for the second revision. The copy usually comes back to me dog-eared and bleeding red ink. Most of the grammar, spelling, overused words, and other inconsistencies are addressed in this step. Claudia also highlights areas that could use more action/interest, are too wordy, or just need to be cut. It’s not unusual for the first two edits to reduce the manuscript by 10% or more.

The third edit is done by reading the book aloud, usually with Claudia. Reading aloud helps test the dialogue for realism and also identifies segments that drag or need punching up. Surprisingly, or maybe not, omissions and errors are still found on this step.

Before hitting the self-publish button, or turning Advance Reviewer Copies over to readers, I will read my book one more time. I guess I might be considered a little OCD about editing, but most writers are.

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