Editing is the most fun you can legally and ethically have.
I’m totally lying.
Sometimes your writing just, well, sucks. That’s where the editing writing process comes in for the writer because, editing is writing. Always. They’re connected at the hip like Siamese twins. No getting away from it. You can’t run and hide. It’ll find you.
When you edit your own work, however, here’s the note you need to send yourself:
Dear Fucker Face,
Welcome to the bowels of hell. Enjoy your bucket full of shit.
No-seriously, but hella seriously. Editing is, can be, and forever shall go down not only as the most important part of your writing (YES, IT IS PART OF ALL WRITING), but the most agonizing. It’s treacherous. Painful. As in blisters on the brain painful. It will cripple your mind and make your eyes bleed.
Here’s my editing shortlist for you. Do with it what you will.
1. Do Some Other Shit.
You’ve finished your book. Wohoo! Get whacky! Now—now put it away. Hide it. Get away from it. Now.
The brain needs rest and since you’ve just completed your book; your brain needs a lot of rest. Editing is a twisty road that’ll get you lost, if you let it; therefore, put your work away. That’s it. PUT IT AWAY. Write the second book or another book or something else. Distance yourself from the fresh shit you wrote. I’m not telling you to move to Alaska and leave the writing in Florida. But yeah, I kinda am.
You need a new mindset when editing. A mental freshness. You need to have time where all bias is removed. To leave the co-dependency out of it. To not get upset because you absolutely love what you wrote and to hell with the first person that says something should go. You need to get rid of the overprotectiveness of being able to remove shit and doing the Ginsu part of editing. So put time between the last word and the editing process. How long is up to you and dependent upon if you’re on a deadline. The longer the better.
2. Print It. Read It Aloud. Hand To Another Humanoid To Read And Give Notes.
You don’t need to literally print out a 300-page manuscript because trees. Slather that thing across your laptop, desktop, tablet, whatever-screeny thing you use to look at and read it.
When we read it out loud, we hear what other people read. If it doesn’t work in our brain, then it’ll confuse other brains too.
Finally, other readers are vital to your editing process. Use beta readers, writing groups, or a trusted source to pull you from your vacuum. You need other people’s POVs. Their eyeballs see more than your glassy orbs. They can find things that you miss like that you kept writing dialogue for Jack in chapter seven even after you killed the poor bastard off in chapter three.
You will then get their notes. It’s a must, those notes. Pay them in beer, whiskey, fantastic embellishment…whatever. You will be pissed at what you consider their unbelievable “inaccurate bullshit” and “blatantly hurtful” notes. You will cry. But hose notes will help. Later.
3. Read Other Humanoids Notes.
Yes. You must get over yourself and read their notes. You’re gonna hate ‘em right away. Might last for a few minutes or a few weeks. No worries. It’s normal’ish, like your petulance. After the read, put those little fuckers away. File them.
4. Re-Read. Copyedit On The Fly. And Take Mad Notes. MAD. NOTES.
That time arrives when you must embrace, hug, and give your book some more love. Sit down with it. Put your arm around it. Look at its words. Re-read it. Fast.
Why the fast read?
Because you’re not reading this sonofabitch for pleasure. You’re reading it to see the glaring big picture. It makes clearer the fuckery in your writing. Small fuckery. Large fuckery. These are the hiccups that come up like a hatchet at a wedding, ruining the entire experience. But hey, you’re taking notes, too.
Note the good stuff. The bad. Especially the bad. Anything that doesn’t fit. Shit that needs to be moved. Or snipped out and placed on your whatever-you-decided-to-call-it page. Don’t hold back. Be a cold editing killer. Don’t emote.
You will use these notes later.
And you shall copy-edit whilst flying through. Poke it a little. Add a tweak. Or a tweaker, if it fits in the scene. Bend it. Twist it. Hammer it. Search out spelling errors, grammatical unevenness, improper word use (Hey, it happens. Words are hard!), and poor word choice. Debilitate fuckedupedness in punctuation, tense concerns, shitty metaphors, adverbs not needed/required, and other junk.
5. Remove Shitty Words.
This is a separate part to your editing. It’s fast. Merciless. Part of the cleaning process.
Think of it as this…
Editing removes the suck from your work. Shitty words make your writing suck. The so-called Crutch Words. Words you use too damn much. Or words that slow the piece down. It pisses off readers. I’ve read pieces where it’s a literal goddamn epidemic. Not like Ebola, but…
I’m not going to get into a list of all the words I can think of, but here are a few I notice: seemingly, annoyingly, suddenly, just-about-any-fucking-adverb, kind-of/sort-of. That’s enough.
I keep a list. Well, a file really. In it are all my Internet pictures of cats. Cute, adorable cats.
Wait a second.
What I meant is, I keep a file for words. Those crutch words that I’ve lazily fallen on. Stumbled into like a drunk. It’s lazy word construction, really. Poor use of those word things. Overuse of some words. It’s useful because it allows me to know things. Things like how many times I used a certain word or phrase. I can search and see that I’ve used the word ‘fuck’ seventy-two times in this book and know that I’m right on track. Or whatever.
6. For Fuckssake, DON’T OVEREDIT.
You’ve edited out your heinous fuckery, moved shit around, and yes, you even managed to understand the great difference between lie and lay. Hey sunshine, you did well.
Know that there’s a difference between editing and doing too much editing. What this magic level of editing is is different for every writer, but there is a thing as too much. At some point, it’s like that relationship you were in at age twenty and you needed to let it go. A simple sign that you’re going too far: You’re stuck on a paragraph for an age and a half; you can feel the wrongness, but you can’t work out how to fix that sucker.
That’s where your professional editor comes in. Do all you can, clean it up, scrape off all the nibbly bits, and then send it away.
7. Don’t Delete Copy. DO NOT DELETE COPY.
So-yeah-umm-no, don’t delete copy. Ever. Cut it and move it to a separate Notes Page or Trash Page or whatever the hell you wanna call your page. Me, I call it my MASSIVE FUCKING NOTES PAGE. In all caps, because MASSIVE. You—you cannot use that.
Here’s two specific reasons why you never delete your copy: You may decide, “Hey, that paragraph/sentence I thought was carp shit was pretty good and needs to go back,” then wham, there it is. And, if it doesn’t go in your current story, it might squeeze into another piece.
And dammit, if you delete and trash your shit, I will find you.
8. Don’t Be Afraid.
Grab a drink. No, not water. Stronger. Much, much stronger.
You’re gonna be fearful. You’re gonna get scared. Your finger will hover the delete button for a few seconds. Maybe you’ll walk away and have a second thought whilst sipping that strong beverage. Then, then you’ll realize that you need to get your writerly shit together. You’ll buckle up. You will get your mindset right.
Editing can be like following an unmerciful god who thinks cactus dildos are fun times.
You have to fight through your every sense of flight. Stay connected. Editing is where your story gets told. It comes to life. It breathes.
9. Bring It Back.
All those notes, gather them. Yours, other peeps, the ones from the aliens, the ones from you mom, the ones you scribbled with all the story fuckups; get ‘em all. Read them. Make them work. Or not. Some will work, others will get bombed and shredded. Point is, use whatever makes your story better.
10. Success. Or Not.
All the work you’ve done, all the editing, the hammering of paragraphs into a finely polished ornament of reading pleasure; it may have worked. Just maybe. Or it may look like a coronal mass ejection of plasma from the sun. One pass might get you done. Or not.
Remember, editing IS writing. Do it until it’s right.