Hi, all! As many of you know, my goal for MayNoWriMo is to finish editing one of my SciFi novels, and I have to admit that in my experience, editing (even simple copy-editing and proofreading) is a longer and harder slog than writing 80,000-200,000 words. This is, in large part, an issue of motivation. The actual story grabs me by the neck and drags me head-first through a roller coaster of multi-layered plots and subplots, intrigue, character development, world-building, and snark laid on with a trowel (in any case, that last bit happens to me 7 times out of 10. Please don’t go looking for mortar-thick snark in the Kinlea Keeper world system O_o;). When I’m writing, I’m often so addicted to the story and the people in it that I can’t wait to get back to my notebook or keyboard. It’s a lot like my novel reading habit but with more emotional investment. The problem lies in the fact that once I finish writing a story, I feel like I’ve finished reading the novel and don’t always feel any intense need to read it again… ten or twenty times… with a fine-toothed-comb and a red pen. So, today I would like to offer up to the MayNoWriMo reading public the process I have developed to force myself to actually (and occasionally effectively) edit the insane number of novels that I’ve written over the years and subsequently left in notebooks and hard drives to collect dust.
1) Find beta-readers you trust to tell you the grim truth.
I have learned that brutally honest beta readers are the best friends a novel writer can have, and indeed most of my best friends are on my beta-reading team. So is my mother. Good beta-readers not only spot problems at an alarming rate, but they remind you how much better the story can be if you work on it. They also remind you how much fun and worthwhile your stories are, and they keep the story fresh long after it would grow stale if you kept the editing process to yourself.
2) Find an audience and read the entire book out loud.
I know this seems extreme, but I have discovered more spelling/grammar errors and awkward passages while reading my books out loud to groups of friends than I have through any other method.
3) When in doubt, wait a year.
Going back to a novel a year or more after you write it can give you an amazingly fresh and uncluttered prospective. I notice that I am less apt to cling to awkward and cluttered wording (and trust me, my diction in early drafts can be horrifyingly thick) with a little bit of time-distance. I finished writing the novel I’m editing for MayNoWriMo back in 2007. I am in a much better position to hack and slash now.
4) Use other projects as edit-goal rewards.
This doesn’t always work for me, actually. Sometimes the unfinished third book in a series starts doing that neck-dragging thing (mentioned in the above intro) while I’m editing the first book… as in, I have the first book open in the window in front of me and my mind (erm… figurative neck?) is racing so fast through third-book plots and pitfalls that I don’t even see the words in front of me. BUT, sometimes it does work. Sometimes I can tell myself that I’m not allowed to write the rest of Horror Novel A before I finish editing Fantasy Novel B, and that can be a good motivator. When it works. Which it often doesn’t.
5) Actually USE the spelling and grammar check options in your word processing program.
Seems obvious, I know, but a lot of us are reluctant to wade through our mushy-slushy-mud-oceans of fantasy words, myth names, and foreign language references. The bajillion clicks on “add to dictionary” are worthwhile, though, for even a hand-full of good fixes.
6) Set an edit goal for MayNoWriMo.
When all else fails, pledging an edit goal to a nice mass-project like MayNoWriMo can boost one’s motivation. Deadlines that the world can see are better than deadlines you set for yourself and frequently break… by years… sometimes decades… heheh. Yeah.
So, there you have it! The Elisa Grace Diehl method for editing novels. It’s not a foolproof method, but through its application I have managed to publish a couple of decently good novels. That’s approximately a 10% success rate so far, and that’s better than the 0% rate I was running until the summer of 2008. With that, I wish you all the best of luck with your goals for the month, and I feel as though I really ought to get back to editing An Exercise in Bad to Worse. Only one week left! Wish me luck! -EGD