Editing! Avoidance! Gorillas?!
As I sit at my desk tip typing away, I feel a presence. One of heft, weight, a figurative embodiment of a 600 pound gorilla staring me down. It sits there, my freshly printed manuscript with its small lined pupil, and wide white eye leering at me. Practically looking through me, with what I can only interpret as complete disgust, dare I say, disappointment. In my mind’s eye, I can see so plainly the look of a disapproving parent. With crossed arms, unblinking eyes, tapping their toes in frustration as if I had just neglected a rather important chore. As if I was avoiding it. Something wildly crucial. Perhaps a key detail or step in a plan that was utmost paramount. What am I talking about you ask? Why Editing, sirs and mams. Yes! In this case, the elephant in the room is a giant silverback gorilla. A guilt gorilla of all things, yes, the guilt gorilla, known as editing.
What is the job of a guilt gorilla you ask? Well, he is supposed to stare at you intently as you avoid the tedious, mind melting, even at times furious task of editing that beautifully terrifying manuscript you spent so much of your time creating, and dare I say, also probably avoiding along the way. He, at least my gorilla buddy, gets his meals via you reading, reviewing, and using that awesome little red pen of yours to mend the marathon of errors and changes to your future award winning, best selling, next great American novel. But you better do it before he gets too hungry…You never know when he will forgo that vegetarian tendency for something a bit more meaty. I mean, he has those huge canine teeth for a reason, right!
Okay… In all seriousness. Editing is a big deal. It is where the real work begins. The refinement. Shaping the story to best fit your vision. And to be completely honest, it can seem like a daunting task. Especially for those who write novel series, like yours truly. Even after writing two books previously, I still look at editing as a chore, a necessary one, but a chore nonetheless. I dread diving into my own work. Why? Because the inner monologue dude, the negative self-talk devil on my shoulder always seems to grapple the other harp playing, halo wearing, positive guy in a headlock telling me that my story and the words I built it with is worthless, not good enough. And this is where the guilt gorilla comes in. He struts in, all domineering and muscular, and just keeps gesturing to my desk drawer with the manuscript in it, like, “Hello. Feed me. What are you doing? Get off YouTube. Stop writing other stories. Quit looking up other nonessential stuff to possibly buy.” Then finally, just like that, after hearing the incessant ape grunt enough in my general direction, I finally move the behemoth document out of the drawer and onto the desktop…Then proceed to ignore it some more. I mean nature is calling. I can’t ignore that. Oh wait, then I think about other calls I need to make, and other things I need/have/want to do, anything besides actually sitting down and committing to the editing process.
So how do you break that cycle of avoidance? Well, eventually, if you love your story enough you will creep back to it, crack it open and realize that what you’ve done so far is actually pretty good. Then you may remember some advice that you have heard. Something I say quite often, “You can always edit garbage, but you can’t edit a blank page.” Well damn it, these pages are surely not blank, and you can always improve on what you have. Hell, you already did the hardest part, create something out of nothing. Now quit whining and do the work to make it the best story you can! However, that may not always work. Or maybe you need more of a push.
You don’t have to go at it alone. Grab another person, someone you trust to give genuine respectful constructive feedback for you to read and help you edit that document. I find that even going back to my positive reviews of my previous books tends to motivate me to keep the projects moving. If you don’t have those yet, because you’re new to the author game, then that will be a future tip to pull out of your writer tool belt. Anyway, it may be easier if I just tell you my process for editing a manuscript.
In Microsoft Word -fix any red and green squiggles - Spelling and grammar errors
1st round red pen edits. Print out the document, and read through, making notes, corrections, etc.
Alpha Readers - People who read the manuscript first when it is still in its first draft. They give feedback, and then the writer makes changes.
Revisions/rewrites/additions - Implement those changes you and/or the alpha readers suggested.
Reorganize - If needed. Move chapters around to mesh the timelines together from multiple story arcs.
2nd round red pen edits - Doing another check. There is always something that gets missed.
Beta Readers - A new person or persons who get a chance to read the work, but this time the manuscript is more polished, refined. Then they give you more feedback. Remember, you are the author, you only hear them out, and if you don't like an idea, forget about it.
Revise/rewrite/additions - Implement yet again any changes or corrections. There are generally fewer here.
Repeat until anxiety is at all time high, or satisfaction has been found beneath the crushing weight of self doubt and loathing.
Now, as I hinted before, this process can be arduous. It’s a lot. Grinding, sometimes grueling work. I have talked with some authors who will take several years to edit a book. Then, on the other side of the coin, I have heard the opposite. Some will knock out editing in a couple of months. Those differences are totally normal. Whatever your process is, own it. Don’t be ashamed of it. Take your time. Don’t let other people’s impatience, eagerness, or demands dictate your timeline. Now that said, if you’re under contract that may be a bit difficult, but I hope you will have enough time and resources at your disposal to aid you through this process expeditiously.
Along with that, don’t lose focus, because throughout that whole process you may begin to notice that as you reread and reread and reread your story again and again that the glitter and magic has evaporated from when you first wrote all the pretty words. The story isn’t shiny and new anymore. You may need to now take the story, which now feels like an old house, and remodel the thing. At times you may have to touch up here or there. Other times ripping out whole walls, replacing broken appliances, eliminating irrelevant or outdated décor. I need to stop here because the house metaphor could go on and on if I let it. But eventually, you get to the point where you need fresh professional eyes to gaze longingly at your work with crucial intent, yes friends, now is the time to send your precious manuscript off into the world. Let it fall flat on the concrete or soar high into the sky. Once you arrive here, that is when you can finally send your pride and joy to be judged by a professional editor! Knowing full well that the overbearing guilt gorilla won’t be bothering you anytime soon. Well, at least until your next first draft comes due for an edit…
Well guys that’s it for this one! Look for the next episode where I chat about what to expect when your book has hit the editor stage. Thanks for taking time to check this out. And as always, Stay Mighty and Keep Reading.