“I’ll be done this week.” A common phrase said by creatives who are, in fact, far from being done. It happens on every project. As the number of scenes still to write approaches zero, the excitement starts to skyrocket. Marketing plans and release schedules take center stage. You allow yourself to start dreaming about the next project when, in reality, I’m nowhere near being finished with the current one.
I blame editing. In my mind, it’s a short process. Read through the work. Catch all the errors. Fix them. Done. Then, I send my work off to an editor who, in my mind, is unlikely to find anything major. Two days later the notes come back and, with them, a million little things that need addressing. If writing were washing clothes, the cycle of read, repair, and repeat would be blinking on that little screen that tells you how many minutes are left.
When will it end? It won’t. In theory, something can always better, so, in theory, you can edit your work forever. You’ve got to have a cutoff point. A point at which you realize the creative horse is dead, and yet, you’re still thumping on it. For this reason, I’ve tried to define three phases of editing in order for me to know where I’m at and know where I need to go in order to finish.
Phase 1. Make it Not Terrible – Expect large changes over long revision cycles. Edits take time to implement as they relate to story, character, and plot. My rule of thumb here is to get twice as many phase 1 edits as I think necessary. For a two hundred page novel, I’d like six “Make it not Terrible” editing passes, so I should expect to do twelve. This editing is sometimes called story editing, substantive editing or development editing.
Phase 2. Make it Not Amateur – The best way to make your finished book less amateurish is to throw your book out and rewrite it with fifty percent fewer words. My expectation is to do zero “Make it Not Amateur” editing passes. In reality, I end up doing 10% of page count plus ten more. This phase is also known as review editing or copy editing.
Phase 3. The Horse Has Passed – The final stage of editing, for me anyway, involves changing a million things that don’t need to be changed. Truth be told, half of these edits do need to be made and the other half don’t. Knowing which half is which is what takes time and creates file names that read something like, “FinalMasterFinalFinalBookMasterFinal137.pdf”. This phase of editing is sometimes called line-editing, grammar editing or simply proofreading.
I hope this non-guide guide to the editing process will help you prepare and stay encouraged during the least fun doing the most fun thing ever, writing a book. Actually, editing isn’t all that bad. In fact, I kind of like it, but not enough to edit this post.