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.