What’s the right way to edit your novel? Or … is there a right way?
Noah posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I am an amateur writer, and have no idea when to begin revisions. Should I start revising the first part of my writing part way through, or begin revision once I am finished with the whole work?
Randy sez: This is a good question, and there’s no one right answer that works for everybody.
If you’ve read my book Writing Fiction For Dummies, I have a chapter on Creative Paradigms. A Creative Paradigm is a method of getting a first draft down on paper. In my book, I mention four common Creative Paradigms:
- Seat of the Pants
- Edit As You Go
- The Snowflake Method
Each of these is perfectly valid, and there are best-selling novelists and award-winning novelists who use each of them. Depending on how your brain is wired, you’ll work best with one particular Creative Paradigm.
Different writers use different Editing Paradigms also. I haven’t put much time into polling writers to find out their Editing Paradigms, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn they’re as varied as the Creative Paradigms.
The “Edit As You Go” Creative Paradigm actually mixes in Creation and Editing very tightly. The author writes a bit (a page or a scene) and then edits it immediately. Sometimes this unit gets edited many times before the writer is ready to go on. But once the page is done, it’s pretty close to being final. Dean Koontz writes this way, and so do many other writers.
The important point is that whatever works for you is whatever works.
Here’s what works for me, and I gather that there are quite a few authors who work roughly this way:
I plan my novels in advance, working through my Snowflake method to create a Snowflake document that spells out at a high level how the story is going to go.
Then I write the first draft (usually quite quickly) using my Snowflake document as a guide. As I complete each quarter of the book, I revise the Snowflake document to be up to speed with the changing story. (A story is not fixed in stone, and neither is a Snowflake document).
During the first-drafting period, every day I do a quick ten-minute edit of the previous day’s work. (Usually, this is 2000 to 3000 words.) I fix any spelling and grammar errors and I tweak the wording. If there are obvious problems in the storyline, I fix them. That’s not common, because Snowflaking tends to produce stories that don’t have major structural problems.
Having done a ten-minute edit of yesterday’s work, I’m then primed to start work on the next chapter. I drill that out without doing any editing, and if I have time, I write another scene, up to my daily word-count.
This keeps me moving forward, and I never feel like I’m getting bogged down in a morass of words.
I organize my writing into folders. I have a main folder named “Books Written”.
Within that folder, I have a folder for each book, named with the original working title of the book.
Within each book folder, I have a number of organizational folders for Proposals, Research, Marketing, etc. The first draft goes into a folder named “Draft 1”.
When I’ve finished the first draft and am ready to start editing, I duplicate the entire “Draft 1” folder and name the copy “Draft 2”. Then I never change anything in “Draft 1” again. I work in “Draft 2” until I’ve done a complete revision.
I generally do 5 or 6 drafts, and for each of these, there’s a separate folder. When I look at the files, they’re ordered nicely and it’s easy to see what’s the current draft. It’s the highest numbered “Draft” folder.
As I mentioned, I’ve never tried to figure out what Editing Paradigms other writers use, but this might be a good time to do it.
So authors, please leave a comment and describe your Editing Paradigm! There’s no prize here, other than the massive fame you’ll get by leaving a comment on the Advanced Fiction Writing Blog. And what more could you want than that?
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.
Carrie Lynn Lewis says
First, I like the new look! It’s beautiful (and this coming from a visual artist as well as a writer).
Second, how I wish I’d read this post a year or two ago! It would have saved me the headache, time, and trouble of arriving at almost the same solution for managing files and documents as you’ve come up with!
Third, the Editing Question….
I begin most writing projects with spontaneous writing, developing whatever dialogue, scene, character, or situation sparked the idea.
Then I plan using a system heavily based on the Snowflake. When I’m ready to write, I can usually write fairly quickly (my current story was drafted in four months).
My editing paradigm is a reflection of my planning paradigm. I don’t do initial planning as deeply as you do (I seem to recall you saying you spent upwards of a year on planning). Consequently, I have to do secondary planning between the first draft and the second. The process looks something like this:
Step 1: Evaluate the first draft with a focus on Big Picture stuff. What worked? How can it be improved? What didn’t work? What does it need to made workable?
Step 2: Evaluate all the ideas arising from Step 1, then develop those that pass muster.
Step 3: Another structure outline (if necessary). Expand as necessary, always keeping an eye on the original intent of the idea.
Step 4: Do I need to research anything? This is a good time to do it and I can do this step concurrent with the previous 3.
Step 5: Second draft.
That’s a simplified version of the process. Not all novels develop the same way or take the same path, but for most of them, the editing process is very close to this.
For each draft, I try to follow the same procedure because it’s easier to remember what I’ve done if I have a check list and can check items off. I’ve found it also is never a waste of time to take a look at the basic things like story structure, scene structure, turning points, etc. first with every draft because there’s always room for improvement.
But hopefully, those checkups take less time with each draft and there are fewer things to fix. That means that as I move through the drafts, I’m looking for smaller and smaller things until the final draft is the equivalent of moving a comma or word from one place to another on one day, then moving it back to the original position the next day. When I catch myself doing those sorts of “corrections”, then the manuscript is done.
Davalynn Spencer says
I’m definitely a seat-of-the-pantser who edits as she goes and employs early aspects of the Snowfake. (Guess that means I don’t outline.) Like Carrie, I begin spontaneously. However, after the first 10-25 pages I start a note-keeping system of POV and scenes with page numbers. These page numbers change throughout the creation phase, but they form a skeleton to which I can refer and attach notes.
By this point I can write a 26-word sentence encapsulating the story, give or take a word. Then I compose a five-sentence paragraph that fleshes out the sentence. From there I can come up with a synopsis.
This all sounds backwards, but I’ve learned that I have to be immersed in the project before I know where I’m going.
As a newspaper reporter I survived on edit-as-you-go, a trick I learned when I had 30 minutes to write an article. Old habits die hard and I’ve chosen to keep this one breathing. Every time I sit down to write, I read the previous scene or chapter to get the “feel” of the story and do any necessary editing. Then I plunge ahead toward my daily word-count goal.
When the story is finished, I let it rest for several days–something the news editor never let me do. Then I read it with fresh eyes, editing for mechanics or flow or whatever needs work. I also have a reader who goes through the story not as a crit partner, but as a general book-off-the-shelf reader. She shares her thoughts which are usually invaluable. After that, I comb through the story with an editorial eye. By this time, I’ve distanced myself enough that I can see things from a more detached perspective.
Johnny Ray says
I would have to say that I am all over the place. The reason being is that each novel is different. To me the plot is king and I have to get that in order first. I do easy corrections as I see them, but I don;t spend a large amount of time on them. I use a lot of xxx in my writing which means i will give this guy a name later or describe the setting later, and then move on. It could also mean I need more research.
This allows me to write very fast, but it also requires me to go back and do a lot of revisions and editing.
Ryan Jentzsch says
My editing paradigm depends on my mood. Most times I will write several scenes and a day or two later I will come back and do editing. Sometimes I will write a scene and then edit it when I am done.
For me the write and edit as you go is a great way of giving myself writer block.
I am an edit as you go writer, so I write until I get a good feel for the story, and the characters. This amount varies for each novel. I save my original file as name_100. Then I edit each chapter, and make a separate folder for each chapter. I edit it a few times, saving each draft. I take the final draft paste it into the main draft and save it as name_99. I keep going that way. 100 was an arbitrary number, I picked a higher number than I thought I would need and as I save the newest file is always on top since computers put everything in numerical order. My drafts, the first is plot, second adding in all the sensory detail, the third is fleshing out the character, last is the polish of sentence structure etc.