Lessons Learned: Editing.


“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
~Elmore Leonard

Guess what, guess what, guess what, guess what?

Not only is there a light at the end of this (seemingly infinite) editing tunnel, but I can actually feel its warmth starting to infiltrate now. I started my fifth (and final – did y’all hear that? – final!) round of major edits on Tuesday, and even though this read-through is once again taking much longer than predicted, I’m super excited to say that’s it going so, so well. I truly thought there was nothing left to delete at this point, but lo and behold, I’m still finding words, sentences, paragraphs, and even bigger chunks. Are they extraneous? Not really. Repetitive? Not like after the initial draft, when it comes time to gather up all the puzzle pieces and lock them more firmly in place. But they’re not necessary to the story, either, and what once would have been very difficult for me to cut out has now become so much easier. That’s not to say it doesn’t hurt to watch the words disappear, but knowing that it helps the book grow … this sounds corny, maybe, but that truly makes all the difference. Reading the manuscript now, it’s obvious to me how much stronger it’s become through the revisions. And that? It’s honestly an amazing feeling. Makes the countless hours so very worth it.

It’ll be a few weeks still until round five is finished, but since I can truly see this book as a proper length (for the first time, really), I thought it’d be fun to think back over the process and see what lessons it’s taught.

-Just because you feel like you’ve known your characters forever doesn’t mean you have to write about every single detail of their lives. Where your main character went for a college graduation trip? Probably not important. (But since I know everyone’s brimming over with curiosity: Sofie took a trip to New York City with her best friend Aubrey.)

-Don’t feel the need to keep driving home the main themes and messages of your story. If you write it well enough, they’ll drive themselves home and leave a lasting imprint.

-It is SO MUCH harder to craft a book in diary format, rather than a regular one. Ten page chapters are okay. Ten page diary entries are not. Before revisions, my longest was seven pages. I’m proud to say that the longest now is only four. Also: even though it’s trickier to write this way, it’s infinitely exciting, because it gives you the opportunity to get inside so many different characters’ heads on an even deeper level.

-When you write “what you wish for” instead of only “what you know,” it makes it rather tough to part with things. Getting to live vicariously through your characters is an awesome feeling. It’s important to stay unbiased during edits, though. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned. When writing, it’s all about subjectivity – going on a journey with your characters, understanding what makes them who they are and gives them life, letting them lead the way as you travel a path together. When editing, it’s all about objectivity – seeing what works best for the book, understanding what weighs it down and what lifts it up, helping your characters with the decisions they’ve already made.

-If you have baby fever, it may not be the wisest decision ever to write a manuscript based around a fictional little one. Kinda makes that fever spike. A lot. Continuously. Anyone need a nanny? ;-)

-The words you overuse? Somehow they are never the same from one manuscript to another. This time, they included “leap,” “journey,” “happiness,” and “love.” I blame the baby. How can you not feel those things when a dear heart’s involved?

-And, finally – and most important – don’t ever, ever, ever give up. When I sat down on that very first day of edits, staring down a manuscript that was twice as long as it should be, it seemed like an endlessly Herculean task ahead. At times, the finish line seemed to be moving farther and farther away, taunting me with its presence. Even though I still have a few more laps to run, the marathon is winding down now. But this book? With all my heart, I hope it’s just gearing up for a long, long journey ahead.

What have you learned from the revision process? Or what have you learned from an important project you’ve tackled at work?

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6 thoughts on “Lessons Learned: Editing.

  1. Great lessons, Shari!

    “Don’t feel the need to keep driving home the main themes and messages of your story. If you write it well enough, they’ll drive themselves home and leave a lasting imprint.”

    That one is especially relevant to me. Especially in my first rough writing, I find myself telling my points more than showing them. Fortunately I can catch a lot of that in the next pass, and what I miss, my crit partners help point out. ;)

    Good luck going into the home stretch!

  2. Congrats, congrats, congrats at reaching the light. :)

    Every lesson…yep, totally agree with you. Particularly about not writing every single detail about your characters (I’m trying to work on that right now with ITW; easier said than done!).

    • THANK YOU!! It feels almost strange to be at this point, but it’s awesome, too. Makes all the work so worth it.

      It is definitely much easier said than done … how can you not want to make your characters feel as real to everyone else as they do to you? You know I love ITW as is, but I’m sure any changes you make will be wonderful, too :-)

  3. Shari, you can come nanny for us any time! I bet Sunshine would LOVE you. :-)

    Congratulations on being almost finished with your revisions! I’m halfway through my second pass, which is the major one (I hope) and so far I’ve added about 4,500 words. Wonder how many more I’ll end up with before I’m done? So funny that your revisions mean cutting and mine mean adding. Want to pass some of your extra words my way?

    • Aww, just the thought of that makes me smile. I’d love to meet her – and, of course, spend time with you in person :-)

      You are more than welcome to have, oh, say, 20,000 of my words. Does that work? LOL. I know we’ve talked before about how interesting it is that the revision process is so different for everyone, and this just highlights it so well. I hope your edits are going great and that you’re having fun adding in new sections/scenes!

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