I am about to turn in my next book Writing as a Path to Awakening (non-fiction) to my publisher. I am also deep into my next novel working toward my second draft. Two completely different book projects, two completely different approaches to editing. So I thought I would share some insights and tips about how I like to deal with very different writing projects at different stages of completion.
1. Make sure you have fully and completely committed yourself to writing your “shitty first draft,” to the extent that you have enough material to work with. Don’t worry if it’s any good at this point; just let it flow and accumulate. Commit to lots of freewriting around your topic, your idea, themes, characters, scene, plot, and storyline.
2. Start structuring the project. What is its organizing principle? Look at dozens of successfully published examples you like. Explore different ways of organizing your project based on some of these favorite examples. How did they break up the chapters and why? Reflect back on your own project considering how it will be most effective for your readers to access your key ideas and themes. Short, pithy, numbered chapters? Long, flowing chapters broken up by asterisks? Large sections separated by “parts”? Medium-length chapters poetically titled? Play around and experiment. Consider what might work best for your particular book.
3. Re-read what you have written so far. Start using your discerning, educated eye to begin trimming and/or adding to the current material. Run an excerpt by your writing group or a trusted reader.
4. Read obsessively in your genre. Be attentive to the style and usage of various authors, their ways and means of constructing sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Take notes. Return to your work with an informed and inspired mind. Try to avoid comparisons and instead focus on learning and further developing your own unique voice.
5. Hire a developmental or structural editor, OR compile a list of at least three trusted, experience readers, who know how to read beyond opinion and into content, effectiveness, cohesion, and power of language.
6. Hire a professional editor, one with experience editing for major national publishers.
7. Sit with the feedback. Take time to digest it and understand it. Ask questions of your editor. Read and re-read the feedback in different moods. Never take it personally. Focus on the constructive elements, of what’s working and not working, in order to get clarity about what seems to be flat, under-detailed, over-written, or confusing, and then be able to celebrate and write more of what is working— what’s bright, dynamic, detailed, interesting and unique. Don’t be too quick to delete vast sections but rather keep a “compost folder” on your desktop and drag unwanted bits into it. You never know what you might want to unearth and re-work later. Continue with your edits for several weeks or months, re-writing, changing, adding, and deleting.
8. Go back to your trusted readers after pulling together another more cohesive draft. Focus on the chapter, page, paragraph, and even sentence level, making sure your pages are working as a whole toward cohesion and coherence in accordance with the goals of your book.
9. Work with this next round of edits. Attend to grammar and punctuation. Repeat number 7. Re-read the entire manuscript out loud. Take notes and make changes, until things sound right inside and out at the level of the sentence and then the word.
10. Celebrate. Whether or not it takes ten months or ten years, writing a book is a giant and challenging prospect. Take breaks. Reflect, reassess, re-boot, and re-commit. Take care of yourself, eat well, stay hydrated, take time to be in silence. Spend time in nature. Take time to read. Be patient with and nurturing to yourself.
May these tips be helpful and support your process along the journey toward publication!
What is your approach to the writing and editing process, particularly when you have more than one project going at once? We welcome your comments and thoughts.