There are many ways to do it. (That should have your attention.) Of course, I mean editing. You could read fifty books, attend conferences and you will hear a hundred different ways to edit. Basically, they’re all correct. You just have to find the way that works for you. Having said that, even with all your experience going through draft after draft you still need a professional editor to take a pass through. If you are traditionally published, your publishing house will provide said editor for you, but if you’re going the self-pub route then you need to hire one yourself. It’s worth the money. You want your novel to be as good as possible and we can’t do that by ourselves. Not even us control freaks.
So how should you go through your first draft and polish it up? I’m slightly anal retentive. (You should see my organized cabinets and I wrote tariffs for phone companies for several years, which spoke right to that side of me. It was a really boring job, but I learned a lot about grammar, how to write an outstanding letter and I got the color code to my heart’s content.) I like to apply those skills to my editing process.
I have printed out the entire novel, three hole punched the pages and put it in a binder. Then I used color coordinated sticky notes to identify the POV characters and made notes on all my stickies. That allowed me to see each person’s story line individually. I liked the color coding, but it was time consuming and I was still a baby writer at the time so I don’t think I benefited enough because I didn’t know enough.
I also love my red pen. Ask my critique partners. I have printed out the novel and red penned myself through out. Like grading papers. That might be okay if you’re righting a very linear story. I made tons of notes in the margins of the pages and added pages then went back and fixed all that I had marked up.
For my last two novels, Welcome to Bibliotheca and Welcome to Skull Mountain I outlined each chapter on a note card. I did this by hand, but if you write in Scrivener (which I’m thinking about switching to. Thoughts?) the program will outline for you. All you have to do is print, cut and paste. I hung each card on my wall with tape so I could move them around. I used different colored pens to identify plot layers that needed to be fixed, holes that needed to be closed. The note cards helped me identify when I dropped a story line, repeated myself (a real disappointment when that happened) or when I needed to add to a story line. I tend to need to add in draft two.
For my current WIP, a women’s fiction novel about home and family, (like my middle grade fantasies, by the way) I’ve got the note cards ready, but this time I’m going to put them on a binder ring so I can take the cards with me. (I got this idea from a blog post about editing. I couldn’t find it to share. Sorry.) I’m also thinking about using small colored sticky notes to identify plot layers that I may have dropped or need expanding on or deleting all together. Never be afraid to delete. Just cut it out and place it in another document. You might be able to use the work later. Or not, but at least you have it. I haven’t used any of the work I’ve deleted so far, but it’s still available to me.
Some authors like to use white boards so they can visualize the entire story at once. Great idea. Some authors only use sticky notes because they like the idea of moving the notes around to rearrange chapters. I love an idea that allows me to “see” what I’m doing. I’m a visual person so colors and pictures are big helps. My story line in Welcome To Skull Mountain had a gigantic plot hole in it and I was having trouble fixing it. I grabbed brown paper bags, the kind we used to cover books with, cut them open and spread them out on my kitchen island. (I didn’t want to waste time running out to get big sheets of paper.) But I had to see what was happening, so in the form of a family tree graph I wrote out the plot line and what branched off from it. This allowed me to see the plot holes, which I also identified in different colored pens, but I knew where to take the story when I didn’t before. I hung that project on the wall too.
I am sure there are many other ways to edit and I’d like to hear about them if you do things differently. As a matter of fact, I want to hear about it so much and in celebration of my new editorial business, the first four people who comment on this blog post will get the first five pages of their novel edited for free. Unfortunately, I don’t edit picture books, early readers, or short stories. Can’t wait to hear from you.