Editing is traumatizing. Akin to giving birth. In its ability to wrap its evil entrails around your brainstem and make you come undone, then feel elated at the culmination, and you forget every lousy part.
The act is the most uncreative thing an inspired will ever try. While in it, it is as if a thousand potato bugs are rambling over your artistic soul.
Few books and writing educators are anxious to speak of this non-creative step, fearing you will tuck your tail and hide with your stories.
It is necessary, be it ugly, part of the writing process (and anyone who tells you otherwise is an editor.) Writers seldom see editing guidance.
I will share my dreadful progression of sludging through this stage of being a published author.
When you’ve finished the Ugly First Draft. Ring bells, shriek at the stars, and relish the impossible task you completed. Share it on your social feeds. Call your friends. Tell everyone you’ve finished.
With this Sisyphus task of writing a book, you must add your own milestones. You know it’s the beginning of the end. We must celebrate in phases or lose our minds.
It’s time to edit. To finish this masterpiece requires a whole different part of your brain than the one you exercised. The fits and starts style with which you wrote the novel won’t help you now. You are in solid left-brain activity. The most important advice is to stay in the moment, like filming a movie or doing surgery. You can only deal with this. Send your kids, dogs, and spouses to camp. Fill the pantry with snacks and caffeine.
These Are My Editing Guidelines:
Step 1. Print that baby and edit by hand for grammar, spelling, continuity, and plot. The printed stack provides pride in putting all those words in order. Moreover, seeing the work from a different point of view allows you to see it with new eyes. Use a black pen and highlighter to point out mistakes and move things around.
Fix it in your word program and save this finished work as the Second draft.
Step 2. Back on the computer, checking basic sentence structure, grammar cleanup, and spacing. Read every word. This is where you fix tenses and points of view.
Step 3. Where you throw out the junk language, do a “find and replace” for insipid words like:
These can be replaced as a space. No need to even check them; straight to the trash they go!
Then you look for:
Totally, completely, absolutely, literally. These words don’t add information to a sentence. For example, “The box was completely full of clothes.” reads the same as “The box was full of clothes.” or better yet, “The box was stuffed with clothes.”
I take this time to enter more similes and metaphors to puff up the story.
Definitely, certainly, probably, actually, basically, virtually.
Again, these words don’t add information. If the sentence makes sense without these words, remove them. These need to be replaced and looked at with precision care. This is an excellent place to add witticisms or metaphors.
Start, begin, began, begun.
These words are unnecessary unless an interruption to the action soon occurs. But for the most part, you can remove these words.
Rather, quite, somewhat, somehow.
A movie doesn’t have to be “rather dull.” It can just be “dull.” Delete!
And last- go for the dreaded dialog tags and replace them with words that show, not tell. Said, replied, asked, and any other dialogue tags. Replace them with action words.
Save as the Third Draft.
Step 4. Insert dialog and pump it up to be “more,” sad, poignant, funny, and whole. This is to fix parts where you rushed. You put a plot point or incident in but needed to expand the language.
Seldom is there enough dialog in a novel. The shape of the writing on the page should not be a massive box of paragraphs. Dialogue breathes life into your characters.
Make your descriptions more of the “show, don’t tell” magic. This is a challenging step but completely necessary. Start with action. It breathes life into your descriptions.
If you’re adding or pumping up humor, take your time to ensure it possesses the complete left turn. Comedy is like a volley. You set it up, move it down and then spike.
Save this as the Fourth Draft.
Step 5. Do a deep spelling, grammar, and spacing check. Use Grammarly and Spell Check twice. This is where you learn you have NO idea where commas should go.
Save this as the Fifth Draft.
Step 6. It’s time to print and read it on paper again. Sorry trees, but it’s necessary at this point. Make sure we are all on the same timeline by rechecking tenses. Fix spacing errors. One more read-through of the whole entity.
Save this as the Sixth Draft. And get out the Cuban Rum.
Step 7. Time to fix the tone. Pump. Remember the small things you forgot.
This super important step is done best drunk. Insert your strange ass voice. Take chunks of it, make sure it stands independently, and move the plot. Everything should be pushing forward the story.
Kill your peacocks here. Cut and save them in a folder.
The best thing I ever did fit my writing was to learn to recognize and kill a peacock. If you are sure this is the best sentence, paragraph, or page you’ve ever written, take it out. It will always make the story stronger.
Save this as the Seventh Draft.
Step 8. Fact-check yourself. You wrote this masterpiece in an “anything can happen” space. Now make sure your dates, places, and other worlds are correct. Get Google AF.
Save this as the Eighth Draft.
Step 9. Send this bitch to your editor, who you would trust to sleep chastely with your spouse. Then wander aimlessly with all the free time you have.
This is an excellent time to plan out your next writing project. Even though you told yourself you’ll never do this again. Layout the plan for the next writing masterpiece.
Here is where you lose your mind as this takes too long, and you’re sure the editor hates your words, your soul, your children, and even your dogs. Revel in this misery. It’s why you became a pen monkey.
Step 10. Time to protect your work (Aka- Intellectual Property). Register is with the government buy purchasing a copyright. I also register it with Library of Congress once it is done. Start building your Author Platform.
Step 11. Get it back from the editor and decide which suggestions to take and, more importantly, which to ignore to make it your own fucking piece of art. Polish it.
Save this as the Ninth Draft.
Step 12. Here, you send it to your beta readers and repeat Step 9 with multitudes.
Step 13. Fix their suggestions if they match. Please do not take any advice from someone who tells you how to fix it. Listen to those that tell you what needs to be fixed, except for stupid spelling errors.
Save this as the Tenth Draft.
Step 14. Format it for publication. Chapter heads are made into headings. Hard breaks between every chapter. Clean up indents and margins. Make this baby purdy!
Step 15. It’s time to write the acknowledgments. Rejoice as snot runs down your face remembering all the love and help you received writing this tome.
Step 16. Hire a weird graphic designer to do the book cover that encapsulates your words into one image, a spine, and a back cover. Also, write your insipid author’s blurb—about you living with three bad cats and in the mountains.
Step 17. Get out your credit card! It’s time to buy your ISBN, barcodes, copyrights, and other tattoos on the cover and marketing bars. I use Bowker because you need a different ISBN for every format, i.e., eBook, hardback, print-on-demand, audible, etc. Get their self-publishing package that includes all you need.
Step 18. Abandon it in post and upload this motherfucker to Dropbox as the Final Draft. It is what it is and will do what it will do. Then upload it to all the self-publishing platforms. Buy as many paperback copies as possible, which are your new calling card.
Step 19. Write a three-hundred-word synopsis explaining the book. The irony is not lost on you that it just took 90,000 words to tell the story, and now you need to get it down to less than a couple hundred. Also, write your logo line and elevator speech. You’re about to go around and tell everybody you encounter that you wrote a book; you better have 20 words to describe it.
Step 20. Now that you have written a novel, The market demands that you become a video director. Plan out a 3-5-minute video script about your book. Then hire a videographer to make the book video. This will drive you insane.
Step 21. Spend an overwhelming amount of time making a schedule for public relations appearances, book signings, and a grand theater showing for this book you just birthed. Or better yet, hire a kick-ass professional and pay her to do it.
Step 22. Celebrate. You wrote a fucking book. You are the 2% of adults that followed through with the dream. Send it to your mom. Put it on your bookshelf. It’s admiring time.
Teri Bayus is a freelance writer, screenwriter, speaker, and creator. She loves to help other writers. Her new book, The Greatest Of Ease is available everywhere.