Writing is a relationship. It’s a very complicated one, but then again, all the best ones are. Long before you sit down, start writing, and come up with the best idea ever, something else occurs. Every writer out there knows what I’m talking about. It’s that bond, that deep-rooted love for creating, for telling a story that fights its way out from within. And when it’s finally out, transferred to the page, you’ve come to know everything about it. The excitement you feel when you share something in common. The sorrow when you don’t quite know what to say next. The comfort it brings you each and every day. Without you knowing, you’ve formed a symbiotic relationship between you and your writing. You and your words. And it’s a love affair that’s existed since, as much as I can speculate, the dawn of time. But, like any head over heels borderline unhealthy obsession, your heart grows too attached. And that can result in nothing short of a full-on tragedy. So, what do we do to tame this fatal attraction? We edit.
Writing is editing. It’s important to know this going in. I can’t say that I took to this concept all that well at first. Who am I kidding? I still have a hard time embracing it. After all, I just said how much we all love our own words; why would any of us want to cut them, shred them, or toss them in the trash? But, editing is the MOST important part of your book. Gut-wrenchingly brutal? Yes. But absolutely, one-hundred percent necessary. So prepare your ever so delicate heart to be broken.
The first thing I like to do is step back. And by that, I mean literally step back. Once the manuscript is “complete,” I stand up from my computer and walk away. For how long varies. But I like to give myself a good chunk of time before I sit back down and go to war with my own words. I do this because it’s always a good idea to go into battle with a clear head. You CAN be too close to your writing. So remind yourself to create space. You’ll need the calm before the storm to gain strength for the task at hand. For there will be casualties….thousands of them.
Then I do my first pass. This is where I focus on story and character development. A lot of the time, we write just to write. To get it all on the page. So the first pass is crucial to making sure you find what works and what doesn’t. Take your time with this step. It’s by far the most important one. You need to make sure the story you had in your head is reflected on the page.
Yup, then I do a second pass. The second pass should only be started once you feel your overall story is under control and feeling right. The second time around I hone in on voice. What demographic, what audience is your book for? You need to make sure your YA book is actually written for young adults. And yes, there are rules for each audience, but that’s an entirely different topic for another day. Besides, rules are meant to be broken. 😉
Finally, I do a third pass. This is when I scour each sentence for spelling and grammatical errors. I struggle with this stage the most. However, I was not an English major in college, so my technical skills are just about as good as they can be, so if you’re anything like me, then don’t sweat this too much. Do your best, but it’s not the end of everything if you miss a comma.
So now your done, right? Wrong. The actual editing hasn’t even begun yet. Sure, you might feel like you’ve been put through the ringer or like your heart has been ripped out of your chest. You might even be exhausted. But you’re far from done. Sorry.
Send your best attempt at a solid manuscript draft to those you love and trust. For me, the very first person to read my work is my wife. Why? Well, I trust her to give me her honest opinion. That’s super important. You need to have people read your work that will brutalize it when it’s terrible and genuinely praise it when it’s good. The worst thing is to hand it over to someone that will just praise you because they’d feel too bad if they hurt your feelings. The bottom line, getting your feelings hurt can lead to some of your best writing. I promise. So send it out, get good feedback, sift through all the red marker, and then sit back down in front of it and start editing…again.
Now, self-publishing is a little different than traditional publishing. Unfortunately, as a self-publishing author, you will have to choose whether or not you want to put money into your book. If you have the means, I highly recommend it. After you’ve painstakingly gone through your book over and over yourself, it’s a really good idea to hire a professional editor. There are all kinds of editors out there. Story editors, copy editors, proofreaders…the list goes on. At this stage in my writing career, I like to hire a copy editor and then a proofreader. I like to think I’m pretty decent at forming my story. The glaring area I know that needs improvement, always, is my sentence structure, grammar, and spelling. So I hire a copy editor to really dig into each sentence. Then I employ a proofreader to catch any last minor spelling mistakes that might have been missed by the copy editor. I will say this. At the very least, do yourself a favor and hire a proofreader before you send your book to print. Editors usually charge by the word, so keep that in mind when you decide to write the next epic fantasy. (If you’d like specific rate info and who I’ve used as editors, then shoot me a message).
And after all of this, I do hope you’re still at least a little bit in love with your story. Editing is a tormenting and painful process. But it’s an unfortunate necessity of the process. By the end, you’ll be able to sit back and appreciate something that much more polished. You’ll have a piece of work that not only makes sense in your head but that appeals to an actual audience. A reader. The person sitting and reading on a park bench. The subway rider who uses your book to drown out the sounds of a busy commute. Or the fellow book lover, sitting at home, nestled under a blanket, sipping coffee, letting your book transport them to another place and time. So remember, it’s far better to have written and edited than to have never written at all.