A 6-step editing process for the Type A writer – Kaela Coble

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By Kaela Coble

All the writers in the world are about to collectively balk at this statement, but I’m going to say it anyway: I really enjoy the editing process.♥

Let me clarify that: Once I know what edits I’m going to make, I really enjoy the editing process.

The worst part about editing (or about starting a book, or starting anything new, really), is not having a clue what you’re doing or if/when you’re going to start feeling like you know what you’re doing. For some people, this part is thrilling. For me, it’s torture. But I was the kid who threw up on the first day of class every year because I was so anxious. It’s safe to say I have a hard time with the beginning of things.

But the great thing about editing (once you know the edits you need to make), is that you already have the material right at your fingertips. No more scratching your head to figure out how the book should end. You already know that. No more wondering who your characters are at their core – you (should) already know that too. The goods are all there in front of you, just waiting to be marked up with a red pen! And the best part is, with each stroke of the delete key, you are actively improving upon your manuscript. How satisfying is that?

But to get to that point, you need a plan. As I’ve learned in all areas of my life, anything that feels overwhelming can be broken into smaller pieces. So over time I’ve honed editing my manuscript into a 6-step process that works really well for me.

1. Once I’ve reached the end of a draft, I do a little Draft Complete dance, and then I walk away from it for at least two weeks. I’ll start on a new project or a short story just to keep my writing muscles from atrophying, but I won’t touch that finished draft for two weeks. This allows me to come back to it with fresh eyes.

2. I make a spreadsheet. (Here’s where my husband pushes his imaginary glasses up his nose and says in a nasally voice “Time to make another spreadsheet,”). Well shut it husband, I say, because this is the most helpful step for me. Basically the spreadsheet is a chapter outline, which has columns for the chapter number, perspective/tense if it changes, page count, word count, and major happenings in the chapter.

Seeing everything laid out like this lets you see the full picture of your book, helping you recognize plot holes, extraneous chapters or ones that are way too long in comparison to your other chapters. It also keeps track of all the little details that will need to be incorporated somewhere else if you decide to remove or change a chapter.

I’m actually cheating by listing this as Step 2, because I’ve already created this as I wrote the first draft – it helps me plot ahead a few chapters at a time (I’m a combination plotter/pantser). But it’s at this point in the editing process that I add the column “Edits Needed.” I probably already have a mental list of some of the manuscript’s issues at this point, and here is where I can start to plug in exact scenes I could tweak to address those issues. I can also play around with moving/cutting chapters at this point to see how it affects the whole picture.

3. Now I basically have a roadmap – a chapter-by-chapter guide to editing – and all I have to do is go through and do it! I’m a super goal-oriented person, so at this point, it’s helpful for me to set some goals. Before I received a publishing contract, I had no deadlines, so to avoid editing here and there for the rest of my life I would pick a date and then divide the number of chapters or pages by the number of days to get to that date in order to determine my daily goal.

Guys, I told you I was Type A.

But seriously, there is a major benefit to condensing your editing time. Unless you have the most impeccable memory known to man, there is no way you’ll remember every piece of background, every character trait, or every piece of dialogue. Doing your edits within a set time (for me, usually about two months), will not only help you avoid silly mistakes (e.g., your MC has blue eyes in Chapter Two and green eyes in Chapter Twenty), but it will keep the characters alive and in the back of your mind, generating ideas even when you’re not in your writing space. It will also help you keep a consistent tone and voice.

4. Each draft actually goes through two rounds of edits. The first is electronic – reading the draft on my computer line-by-line. I’m looking for where to incorporate anything listed in the Edits Needed column of my lifeline spreadsheet, but I’m also cleaning up crappy sentences and cutting long chunks of backstory to bleed it in throughout the draft. No line is overlooked in this phase.

5. After my computer revisions, I wait at least one week (again, wanting to re-approach with fresh eyes), then I print out the manuscript and bind it, and it’s time to read it with my trusty red pen. No matter how many times I electronically edit my book, I undoubtedly catch so much with that red pen it’s almost embarrassing.

Having a hard copy helps me put me more in a reader mindset, because I’m actually holding the book in my hands. Of course, I know things my reader doesn’t know, so it can be hard to really immerse myself, but it’s the closest I can get.

I take this hard copy with me wherever I go, because you never know when you’re going to have a few spare minutes to get some pages done. And whenever possible (i.e., when I’m not in a public place), I read dialogue aloud to make sure it flows naturally. I note any scenes that feel like a chore to slog through, because that’s a good indication that my readers will feel the same and that the scene needs to be trimmed.

Then it’s time to make those changes in the electronic file again!

6. Once I’m done editing, it’s time for second opinions. I print out or PDF my novel and send it to a few trusted readers, (which now, of course, includes my agent). Then I repeat Steps 1-5: 1) while they’re reading, move on to something else and wait for the feedback to roll in; 2) absorb the feedback and figure out what really resonates with me and then sketch out in my spreadsheet what I need to change; 3) set goals; 4) electronic edit; 5) hard copy edit.

So that’s how I edit. It’s intense, but having a set process really helps me stay on track!

Friends and Liars is Kaela Coble’s first novel, which was published June 1 by Atlantic Corvus and February 2018 in the US by Sourcebooks Landmark. Kaela is a member of the League of Vermont Writers and a graduate of the UK-based Womentoring Project. She is also a voracious reader and a hopeless addict to bad television and good chocolate. She lives with her husband in Burlington, Vermont, and is a devoted mother to their rescued chuggle, Gus.


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