There have been many times when I finished writing a story and only a few short days later I sent it off to the publisher. I often wondered to myself, have I done enough editing? Is my story really as polished as I think it is? I've gotten enough rejections of stories to wonder whether my editing process needs tweaking, but I have also gotten a lot of acceptances that seem to negate that worry. This is how I edit--a method that I think works well for me--and how I'm working on tweaking the process to help my writing and my stories grow.
I have heard that the best way to sit down and write 50,000 words is to write continuously. Do not stop to edit or backtrack, do not reread past chapters, and do not stop to think about whether what you've written actually makes sense. You can edit everything later! On paper that sounds like good advice; I could probably get a lot written if I let myself go like that. The issue is, that's not how I write. In fact, if someone were to ask me for advice on writing, I would probably give an exact opposite answer.
I am a serial editor. I try to sit and write as continuously as possible, but the second a red or green squiggly line appears underneath something I have to stop and check what's wrong. It's a compulsion that I can't ignore. Because of that, there generally aren't any obvious misspellings or grammar issues in my work. But that isn't enough for me. When I finish a section and feel like I need a break before diving into the next part, I often go back and reread what I've just written. This is actually a pretty major step in getting my stories edited for submission, as odd as that sounds. Editing when the idea of what I want put onto paper is still fresh in my mind (because I just finished putting it onto paper) is a great time for me to go back and double check that I got everything still swirling through my head down. I often add a lot of content and fix some continuity issues at this point. While I was writing I was focused on getting every bit of plot and character down. As I reread, all the little things I missed immediately jump out at me. I also find editing like this to be a great centering tool, so when I return to writing where I left off I know exactly what just happened to lead me to where I still need to go. It's a lot harder for my story to veer off on unfortunate tangents that way.
I don't stop editing there. One story will take months to write, but I am also a victim of writer's block, procrastination, and distraction. Sometimes an entire month (or more) will go by without my writing a single word in a story. Maybe I was working on something else, maybe I couldn't string any viable plot together, or maybe I was just putting off the research I needed to do. Either way, individual stories tend to sit stagnant on my computer and in my brain for a long time. I have heard time and again that once I finish a story, I should let it sit for a while before editing. I agree with that idea wholeheartedly. When I finally pick an unfinished story back up, I start reading at the beginning and I start editing. This is the second most important step to my editing process. When a story isn't fresh in my mind I can see things I would have missed before. A person's mind that is too familiar with the story will gloss over issues like a missing S or E in a word, or the wrong Two or There because their brain thinks it knows what should be on the paper regardless of what their eyes are actually seeing. I have found that I generally don't suffer from that issue nearly as much a month later after my brain has had a chance to forget. In addition, plots or sentences that had made perfect sense in my head aren't always translated properly to paper. Those in particular are very hard to see when a story is too fresh. Giving my stories time to rest before editing allows for those issues to become easier to spot. Throughout the months long writing process for one story I go back to the beginning and reread many times.
Once I've finished a story, I'm always super excited to get it formatted and sent off to a publisher. It actually takes me a lot of self-discipline to ensure I sit down and give the story a final edit. Only days after a story is completed, I go through it as thoroughly as I can. I used to then immediately submit it once that was finished, . I admit, at this point in the editing process I used to believe that I had done enough. Remember, I've already done most of the editing throughout the months it took to write the story. Truthfully, no one seemed upset with the editing for the stories in my Dragon's Hoard Series, which I submitted moments after finishing that final read-though. I still believe that there's only so much editing that can be done before I start feeling like I'm killing the story, but I am trying to improve!
For many authors the final edit for a story is a process that can, and probably should, take weeks. They give the story some time to rest before they start combing through it. That is a process I am trying to learn because I think it should improve my overall final product. Instead of allowing myself to immediately submit a story only days after I finished writing it, I am trying to put the story aside for at least a few weeks before giving it a final edit. My first real attempts at this are Thunderbird and The Oracle's Sprite. Both stories have been sitting stagnant on my computer for weeks. They're both complete, but I have forced myself to let them sit. In December I will read through them again for a final edit before I format the documents and submit the stories.
I'm sure everyone has their own personal editing method and that there are people shaking their head sadly over mine. I can't change how I write or how I edit, but I am hoping adding to the process will produce real results. I'll let you know how it worked out after Thunderbird and The Oracle's Sprite have been accepted!
March 21, 2018
Mell Eight is an author writing with LT3. For more information about Mell and her writing, please visit her website: http://melleightfiction.