And Now What: My Editing Process

Some of you, my readers, did it. You wrote that novel during this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Congratulations. It is an awesome thing you have accomplished. Now some of you are thinking your novel is pretty darn good. It needs work, but it could be published. Maybe even head for bestsellerdom. It’s been done before.

However, and there is always a however, it’s time to stop and smell the coffee. That first draft is not ready for prime time. As Hemingway once said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” Especially if you are self-publishing, you will need to put that first draft through the grinder.

So I am here to share my editing process  I have a first draft of an 80,000-word novel, Adam at the Window. I have developed this process after six previous excursions into noveldom. Many of these tips came from novelists and editors. A few I discovered on my own. Pick and choose what works for you. Paraphrasing John Lennon, I say, “Whatever gets you through the write.”

1. I took a month long break from my novel.

2.Then I read the novel straight through. It took me a weekend.

3.Then I asked, Do I still love the story? If not,I won’t go any further. Why would a reader like a story the writer doesn’t care about? I say yes and continue.

4.A helpful text I use: Self-Editing for Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print By Renni Brown & Dave King.

5.Always remember who you are writing the novel for. I made this my mantra: “Everyday I improve my story so that readers will love it.”

6.While editing my novel, I have been reading well-written novels by others that I can learn from.  I  have read a couple of Elmore Leonard novels to get insight into dialogue. I read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse for a painter’s thought process. Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast gave me a sense of Paris. Oscar Hijuelos’ Mr. Ives’ Christmas has been wonderful for description.

7.Next I determined what one question drives my novel. And how does it get answered. If it were a mystery, who done did the crime? Or if it’s a Columbo, how will the detective discover the killer? For a romance, how will these two ever get together? For Moby Dick, will Captain Ahab get the whale? Will the old man catch a fish in The Old Man and the Sea? Will NIck Carraway become Gatsby? Will the Joads make it in California? My novel, Adam at the Window, asks, What happens to a family when the father and husband does not return from war? Without this main question, no novel can succeed.

8. How will this question be worked out? Not only by the Main Character but also by the supporting characters?

9. I now make an outline of my scenes. As I go through the outline, I ask:

What purpose does this scene serve? If I can’t answer that, I don’t delete the scene. I mark it in red. I may discover its purpose during your editing.

Are there missing scenes? If so, I will have to write them during the editing process. I had to add a high school dance to Adam. In this scene, Adam met a character who was not in the original. This led to several scenes that had not existed. And made Adam a fuller character.

Are there scenes I can combine?

10.Am I happy with the structure of the novel? If not, what structure will I replace it with?

11.I put together a playlist of at least one song per scene.I listen to the song just before I start working on the scene. It puts me into the mood of the scene.

It may be helpful in flushing out the scene. When Adam was going to an interview with an art gallery owner, I played Elton John’s Roy Rogers. This gave me ideas for what art would be on display in the gallery. When Adam was learning how to paint, I listened to Carly Simon’s Touched By the Sun.

Some of the songs are songs played by characters in a scene. Peggy Lee’s Black Coffee plays on Adam’s grandfather’s radio as he paints. The grandfather comments, “Now that’s real music.”

12.Now I am ready to start the editing. I work on the novel scene by scene:

I create two text boxes side by side on a page of Microsoft’s One Note. (Scrivener can also be used for this purpose.)

I paste the scene in the text box on the left side. In the text box on the right, I type the text of the scene, making changes as I do. In some cases, I eliminate sentences. I may change the verb. I tend to leave stuff out in my first draft, so I add description. As I am working of a scene, I may have to go through this process several times.

Once I am satisfied with the scene, I paste it in Pro Writerly Aid for analysis.

When I have completed the analysis, I paste the text in a new version of my document. I change the font and read the text out loud. This helps me catch mistakes I missed.

13. I fill out an scene analysis sheet, answering the following:
The Date when the Edit is finished.
The Scene number.
The Name I am giving the Scene.
The Time with the Date and the Setting.
Number of Characters.
Number of Words.
What’s the Purpose of the Scene? Does it Reveal Character, Advance the Story, or Explore the Theme? If it does none of these, it’s time to get rid of it.
Is there an anchor at the beginning of the scene (Who, When, Where) to orient the reader?
Does the scene open with: Dialog, Thought, Action, or Description?
Does the scene close with: Dialog, Thought, Actiton, or Description?
Vary these elements. For instance, if you have too many scenes opening (or closing) with Dialog in a row, the novel will get boring.
Which of the five senses are used in this scene? The more used the more likely the reader is going to feel they are there.

14.Creating chapters. As I move through the editing process with the scenes, I begin to see that several scenes in a row have a theme, such as the Protagonist is meeting new people in these scenes. Those scenes become a Chapter. Once you have a chapter, ask, “Does this chapter end in a way that will make the reader want to read on?”

15.The final step. The Beta Reader. I find three, four or five people who read a lot and ask them to read my novel and give feedback. I will reward my beta readers with a token of thanks. Here are the questions I will ask my Beta Readers:
1. What is the story? Tell me in one paragraph.
2. Do you care about the Main Character? Why?
3. Were there other characters you cared about?
4. Any you hated?
5. Were there places in the novel that stopped you?
6. Or were not clear?
7. Were you expecting the ending?
8.Would you buy the book if you had not read it?

16.Once I have evaluated my Beta Readers’ analysis and made any changes I think are necessary, I will begin my submissions.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions that I might add to this process.


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