#ContactForm1 { display: none ! important; }

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Matter of Timing

Someone cornered me the other day with an interesting question: When Do I Edit?

Do you stop and edit after every chapter in the rough draft?

Do you start editing the moment after you write "The End"?

Do you not edit under the assumption that that's why someone is paid to have the title Editor?

It's a bit scary, but here's the break down:

When to Edit a New Novel-
Not until after the first draft is done from page one to page last, and not until you've taken a vacation from the novel. I find one to four weeks is a good vacation time.

Why not edit every chapter? Because you will never finish the novel. Take it from someone who tried this... you will never get past chapter 3.

Why not edit as soon as you finish? Because your brain is locked onto one idea. You'll probably be able to fix the typos, but you won't be able to fix plot holes or pacing until you get some time away to think of new solutions. This approach will also drive you crazy.

old; color: rgb(51, 51, 153);">When to Edit an Older Novel-
Let's say you had this novel, you did a few drafts, and threw it under the bed in disgust. After all, there were other plots that needed love. First, you need to read through the whole novel and decide if it has value. Then you need to break it down into what works and what doesn't. And only then may you edit.

Why not edit as you read? For a novel you know is viable and headed for market this works. For a novel that's on the fence... not so much. You need to see the big picture.

Will I ever really want to pull an old novel out? Probably. Most authors have a few beloved books hidden away that they hope to one day unveil.

Are all my old books really going to get published? Nope! Don't even plan on it.
Some of those old novels you will pull out and remember why you have them shoved under the bed. Not everything a writer writes is perfection. It's not all meant for publication. You may find that some stories are just to personal to publish, or that you no longer relate to the characters. It's okay to let old novels die. It's sad, but it's okay.

When You Have to Pick Between Two Novels-

You've come out of the closet and admitted you're a plot whore. And now you have to pick which novel to focus all your energy and time on. Choose the one that advances your career.

Repeat after me: CHOOSE A GENRE


Good author.

Why can't I write in multiple genres? You can. Building a career in multiple genres is harder. If you start writing in historic erotica and then switch to Christian sci-fi (is that even a genre right now?) you might find that you just don't have cross-over appeal between fan bases.

How do I choose which genre to write? Pick the one you write in the most.
I write either sci-fi or comic fantasy. Both are a lot of fun, but most of what I write is sci-fi and so that's where I put in my time.

What if I can't pick? What will be best for your long-term career?
Go look at the store, what's selling right now? It's going to change... but see what's doing well and what's dying. Ask your beta-readers which style is your strongest.

Editing When You Are on a Deadline-
I used to be an editor for a small newspaper. Let me tell you, if an editor sets a deadline they mean, "In by this time or you will be dead."

I don't care if you don't feel the muse today, have a head cold, or are giving birth to sextuplets on live TV - you edit the manuscript and get it in by deadline.

But... No, no exceptions. If you die, the editor will expect you to ghost write it. Get to work. No excuses.

Any other questions?


  1. Great post, L! I used to edit as I went too. Never finished anything until I stopped doing that. I totally agree with giving it time before you start editing. It not only helps with objectivity, but it also helps me not to want to feed the fire with the ms. %-)

  2. Ghost write it, ah ha :P

    Great post. I'm so ITCHING to edit Jess as soon as I get home %-) I'm having all these Ideas and I'm practically bouncing to dive in and EDIT! BWAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!

  3. Ah.... what about editing when the writing runs into a block?

    Because that's what I did with my present WIP (work in progress) formerly known at WIP (work in pieces).

    I was a chapter away from the ending, but realized that there was no point in writing that ending, because it wasn't right. Or it was the wrong door. And I couldn't stand to waste my time opening the wrong door.

    In order to find the right door, I had to backtrack to the last spot where I truly felt like I was on the right path. That - unfortunately - was Chapter 1.

    I kept most of the material I had, but revised it, gently steering towards the right door. That meant cutting scenes, adding scenes, fleshing out characters, cutting characters, adding depth and 'emphasis points'.

    Yes, I imagined the right door to be just a bit left and above that first horrible Wrong-Wrong-Wrong door. :]

    And editing never stops at one go through. I'll be editing again right after I finish the book. And that editing will smooth everything out. Well, hopefully.

  4. Nice, L. I agree with you on all the points except editing as you go. I've tried to fight this over and over and over, and I've found if I give myself liberty to spend a week on one scene and polish it up, make sure it's going in the right direction, I save so much time and energy. It's just the way I work. Write, write, write, go back and edit a few things, write some more, edit, write, and reach the finish. And yes, I finished.

    Feel free to argue, but I'm learning that this is the way my crazy annoying brain works.

  5. "If you die, the editor will expect you to ghost write it." HAHAHA!!! Love it!

  6. My biggest problem is that I tend to edit as I write. So right off the bat I'm experimenting with different tenses, point of views, voices etc. A friend has joked that if I keep this up I might one day edit a story down to the perfect word. Recently, I have taken a free write or stream of consciousness approach to writing. I would then let it sit for some time, go back, and wonder where the heck I was going with the piece in the first place.