Over the years I’ve bounced around different processes for editing large bodies of work. Given that I’m currently going through the process myself and with NaNoWriMo over for another year, I thought it would be a good idea to go through what I do and look at why I do it this way. Personally, I find this method the most efficient way to edit, and I love a bit of efficiency.
Step One: Save
A short opening step. Save your work, back it up somewhere secure and make a copy of the document to work from. By working from a second document you’re adding a layer of protection if you make a mistake. Maybe you delete a chapter because it doesn’t work but you change your mind later. If you haven’t created a second working document, that chapter could be lost. Make sure you call it something sensible too so you know which one you’re working on.
Step Two: Read and Note
Read your book and make notes. I use the comments in Word but you can write notes in a different document or do it by hand. I make minor tweaks during this phase. Changing spelling mistakes, rewording sentences a little bit. But, if I’m adding or taking large parts away, or redoing an entire scene, as examples, I will make a note to do that later. I do it this way because things may change later down the line. If I redo chapter two so it fits with my ending but change my ending when I get to that, too, I’ve wasted a load of time.
Step Three: Act on the Notes
Go back through the document and do what you told yourself to do in the notes. A pretty straightforward step. Now you’ve got a slightly more final view of the book and how it will all play out, you can go in and add those scenes that are missing or put the details in that you didn’t foreshadow well enough.
Step Four: The Big Picture
Check the structure. Some people would look at the structure earlier on but, because of the changes that you’re no doubt going to be making in steps two and three, I feel that it would be wasted effort as you might have go through the structure again once you’ve made the changes. It doesn’t matter what structure you’re using or how you go about checking it. Personally, I print out my chapter headings, write a sentence or two about what happens in said chapter and compare it against whatever structure I’m using.
Step Five: Make Structure Changes
Any issues that arose from checking the big picture, fix them. Hopefully it will just be minor changes or moving some bits around so they fit a bit better. If not and it’s more of a rewrite that you were expecting, don’t be disheartened; it’s part of the process.
Step Six: Print
Print your book. Not like a book, print it out on a4, put it in a folder, grab yourself a pen and have a jolly good read of it. By changing the medium by which you read your document, your brain changes the way it sees it and it makes it a lot easier for you to spot mistakes. This is where I fix spelling, grammar, word choices as well as making sure that the scenes work and are as good as I can get them.
Repeat if Needed
Personally, I only really repeat the sixth step. You should be able to catch any new mistakes this way. I like to repeat that step at least once just to make sure I’m happy with it.
When you’ve finished with all of that, there are a few different routes you can go down; you could hire an editor to have a look as well, give it to some people for feedback or just start sending it straight to agents or self-publishing. Also, I’m not saying that this is the only way or the best way or, to be honest, even a good way. I’m saying that this is what works for me, if you’re struggling with the editing process, give this a go and see if it works for you. If it does, fantastic, glad I could help, if it doesn’t then try something else until you find something that does work. And have fun. This shouldn’t be a horrible arduous task. Enjoy it and your work will thank you for it.
© 2020 David Chitty
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.