Writing a book is easy. Just pick up the laptop, open a blank document and write the words. If only!
Writing a novel takes time. It’s filled with frustration, elation, moments where you want to smash your head against your keyboard, and moments where you literally jump up and down because you wrote something that actually reads well. But, the most time-consuming and difficult part of writing a novel isn’t in the writing – it’s in the rewriting. The editing process is what takes your manuscript to the next level.
As I near the pointy end of releasing my debut novel, I can now look back and reflect on the process as a whole.
The editing process is something that daunts even the most successful and prolific authors. But the one thing they all have in common, is they understand just how important the process is. The editing is where the magic happens.
Here’s what I learned during the editing process
The Structural Edit
Structural or developmental editing is the most demanding and time-consuming editing stage. It’s both horrifying and satisfying. Your editor will pick apart your manuscript piece by piece. Analyzing story, character arc, and plot lines. Their job is to help you make your story readable, coherent, logical and believable. The feedback you get from your structural editor is the most important feedback you will get and will shape the finished product.
I learned that:
- Gut feelings are always right. If there’s something in your story your unsure about – a scene, a character, a plot point – your editor will see it too. Many of the things my editor pointed out were things that I knew weren’t’ working.
- Editors are there to help you. They give you suggestions and advice on how to make the story work. They won’t tell you how to rewrite the story plot-point by plot-point but they will ask you questions, pose possible scenarios, and suggest alternatives that get you thinking in a different way. And most times, that’s all you need to help you bring the story together.
- You can’t fool an editor. If you rush an ending, include a scene that doesn’t move the story forward, have a character that doesn’t fit or is thinly developed they will call you out on it. And that’s a good thing.
- They know what works for your genre – so listen.
- They know what works. Full stop. So listen.
The Copy Edit
A copy edit is where the editor analyses paragraph, sentence, and word structure, as well as spelling, punctuation, and grammar. A copy edit comes after your structural edit and after redrafting is complete to the point where the story is ready.
- If you overuse a word, they will tell you. Here’s a few of my overused words: Just, actually, okay.
- They pick up on repetitions – my characters tend to do a lot of ‘smiling’ and ‘furrowing of their brow’.
- My copy editor was great at suggesting different ways of rearranging to make them flow better without changing the meaning.
- My spelling is pretty good. Happy face.
- My grammar, not so. Sad face.
- My copy editor is good at both. Grateful face.
My biggest takeaways from the editing process
- You don’t have to accept or agree with the structural editor’s recommendations. They are just that – recommendations. But, most of the time they’re right. Make sure you seriously consider each and every comment and be aware of the implications for the story if you choose not to act.
- If you can, engage a different structural editor, copy editor and proofreader.* Each is a new set of eyes over your manuscript, and the more (professionally trained) eyes, the better.
- It’s not a scary process. Okay, so it is, but I’ve learned to enjoy the editing process because I know it makes my story the best it can be. The feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment once you’ve wrangled the manuscript into shape is pretty darn good.
The Wrap Up
It’s been a huge learning curve following through from the structural editing through to copy editing and proofreading. It’s been hard work, there’s no doubt about it. But, it has to be done. Editing is the process that makes a good book, great. And when it finally all comes together, when you sit back and compare your first draft to the final one, the feeling is pretty awesome.
*Note: You don’t need to undertake all these steps of editing to publish your book. I chose to, because I knew it would make my book the best it can be.