Edit Hacks

Since I just completed a round of developmental edits on two different stories, I thought I’d talk about a few things I’ve learned over the years.

Some edits are pretty easy.  Tweak this, make this scene a little deeper or more emotional.  Not too bad, right?

Other edits are HARD.  Change (or clarify because you didn’t get it clear enough) a character’s emotional ARC through the whole story. Add a completely different component to a sex scene.  What makes these kind of edits hard (for me) is that the story vision is already complete in my head. I told exactly the story I wanted to tell. However, I probably didn’t get everything that was in my head onto the page, and sometimes my editor sees something I missed.  Or even better, she has ideas to make it deeper, more emotional, and worse for the character.  Then I’m slapping myself and saying why didn’t I think of that??

But changing the VISION is hard, even if you agree 100% with the editor’s suggestions. (I’ve been super lucky so far that I’ve never completely balked at something an editor has asked me to do.)

Remember the chaos effect: A butterfly flaps its wings in chapter one, and by the end, you have an entirely different story.  You have to stay true to YOUR vision while making it better, which really can be hard.

So here’s my edit process in case it will help anyone.

  1. Read the editor’s revision letter.  DO NOT MAKE ANY CHANGES YET.
  2. Think about the main points and come up with alternatives in your mind. Nothing has to be concrete yet.  For this stage, I find doing something rather mindless, like crochet or playing a BigFish Game, can free up my subconscious to work on it in the background. This usually takes me a couple of days to mull over in my mind.
  3. Jot notes about what you think you can do to address each point.  If possible, refer to page or chapter or scene.
  4. Start breaking those tasks down onto a calendar or loose timeline so you have a rough idea how long it’ll take.  Keep in mind that many edits at this point have a trickle down effect – one change might affect several chapters. That helps you prioritize the tasks and lay out all the various places you have to work.
  5. Build in at least one full day to do a final read through before the work is due.

As I begin breaking the edit points down into specific tasks, I realize that most of the work is early in the story.  For whatever reason, my first chapter or two is always heavier work, even in copy/line edits. Your major work may be elsewhere and it might take a few times for you to figure out where your weaknesses or strengths are.

For me, inertia is a problem because I initially feel overwhelmed. For Charlie, I had 5 pages front and back of MY notes I made while talking with Alissa, and then I printed out her revision letter too which was several pages long.  Where to start? OMG this is going to be soooo hard. There’s no way…

HACK #1:  SKIP YOUR WEAKNESS FIRST.  I know the beginning chapter edits are going to be hard (usually this is how a character is introduced and reacts for the first few scenes, so lots of work is involved).  So I skip the beginning edits entirely.  You don’t have to work on edits in a linear fashion. Pick one that’s easy, that you already clearly know how to address.  That way you start out solid.  Sometimes it’s just STARTING that makes all the difference, then you can chisel on each item bit by bit.

HACK #2: WORK IN LAYERS.  You don’t have to get the edit point fixed entirely in the first go-round. This is especially true if you’re working on character arc changes.  It’s going to take time to layer in all those changes across several chapters, so take it in pieces. Make one change in one scene, save the work, and I literally take a break. Either I read what I’ve done so far, or I jot notes on something else.  Then I come back and take a look at what I did and move forward from there. It keeps me from getting overwhelmed.

HACK #3: BUILD IN TIME FOR A READ-THRU.  At least one!  Just because you make topical changes to meet the editor’s suggestions, that doesn’t mean your job is done.  It’s your vision. You have to make sure that all of the little subtleties are there, that you’ve carried every little new thread through in a logical way. I save a copy and call it “approved” with all comments deleted, all changes approved, and track changes turned off.  Then I read thru form start to finish, and fine tune the real copy as needed.

Refer back to #2 at this point.  For Charlie’s story, I had to read thru several times, especially the opening chapter because so many things changed.  Little things, but I had to make sure they flowed, made sense, and didn’t mess up what I’d started.  Just make sure you SAVE the real doc before saving an approved copy with all the changes accepted, and then you make the corrections in the main copy.  I got messed up once and  saved my changes in the wrong version.  I don’t send that approved copy to my editor, so if I hadn’t caught it, that change would have been lost.

Do you have any tips or hacks for surviving an edit pass?

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