All the nitty-gritty details of how I’m editing my second collection of short stories
Hello again, reader and writer friends!
It’s been a while since I’ve written a new blog post for this site, and I keep telling you it’s because I’m “deep in the process of edits.” However, I realized that it might be nice to explain exactly what that means for me.
Every writer abides by their own guidelines and so the process I describe here is by no means universal. Still, I thought it’d be interesting for other writers to read about the minutia of my process in case any particular techniques could be of use to them, as well as interesting for non-writers to get a peek inside what the editing process can entail.
Before we get into the details, I want to reiterate that this is MY process and so, although I will give names to each stage for the sake of clarity, that doesn’t mean these are the “proper” names or that anyone other than me would have the same definitions for these terms. The creative process is totally subjective and personal.
I’m excited to bring you along for this ride through my editing process (as it exists at the moment, while working with short stories*), but please don’t hold me responsible for teaching you how to “properly edit.” This process is the summation of a lot of research and craft reading on my behalf and then my personal preferences. Enjoy!
1.) Preliminary Edits
Most writing resources will urge you NOT to edit as you draft and I’m sure that, in the long run, it’s needlessly time-consuming to edit while you write. However, I’ll be honest with you and say that I do go back while writing to re-read past paragraphs and sections and make changes and edits as I go. This is not a stand-alone phase as it goes hand-in-hand with the first draft, but it does happen for me, so I wanted to acknowledge that as part of my editing process.
** After I am satisfied with my first draft, I pass it on to my Alpha reader. **
2.) Edits I
Once my Alpha’s had a chance to review it, we have a feedback session and go through all of his feedback—from things as big as character development and plot changes to things as small as typos. From there, I embark on what I call “Edits I,” the stage in which I go back into the draft to make changes based on Alpha feedback. Sometimes, this can entail an entire rewrite (For example, I have done this when it felt better to put the story in third person, rather than first person, or to re-order the scenes). Usually, though, this is what most resources would call a “development edit.”
** After I am satisfied with my second draft, I pass it on to my Beta reader. **
3.) Edits II
Once my Beta’s had a chance to review it, we also have a feedback session on similar things. Again, the degree of revisions suggested during this session varies greatly depending on the story and the strength of my initial drafts. After working with my primary Beta reader, I go back and make any recommended changes that I feel necessary in the stage that I consider “Edits II.”
I should note that, at every stage that I am talking to someone else about revisions, I am discerning for myself if I want to act on those suggestions. Sometimes, I wholeheartedly agree with the feedback. Sometimes, I’m resistant to it but eventually decide that making the change is for the best. Other times, though, I disagree and choose to disregard the suggestion.
I work with the people I work with because I respect their opinions but, at the end of the day, I need to respect myself enough to stay true to the way I want to write my stories. If you take one specific thing from my process to implement into your own, I really hope it will be this nugget of wisdom!
** Once I have a clean third draft, it’s time to pass my story onto my Beta II team. **
My “Beta II Team” is a group of volunteers who represent a nice range of my readership and have agreed to read my stories and provide feedback on them before publication. When I send them each story, I pass along a questionnaire as well. The questionnaire is made up of 6-10 questions for each story, to be answered at designated points throughout.
Currently, my Beta II team is made up of six individuals, but I’ve heard of others using as few as three or as many as thirty. Since I am going through each and every Beta Reading questionnaire myself, six is a perfect number for me.
Once I have all of their feedback, I can embark on the Edits III process. There are usually a number of weeks before I begin on Edits III, which is excellent for “getting out of the story” and being able to come back to it with fresh eyes.
4.) Edits III
I start out by opening up all of the Beta II Team questionnaires and reading through all of the answers to each question. As I go, I take note (in a notebook) of trends and comments/suggestions that particularly resonate with me. I use this list as I go back into the story as a checklist for improvements to be made.
Occasionally, I get feedback about typos or awkward sentences from my Beta II team, but this is a generally more of developmental edit than a line/proofread edit. As such, the Edit III, which happens on my computer, can include more intensive changes like re-arranging scenes, adding in character backstory, etc. In this stage, I will re-read the story and make these initial changes as I go.
5.) Final Developmental Edits
After going through the entire story with my Beta II team’s feedback in mind, I will set the story aside for at least a few hours, ideally until the next day. That way, when I read through it for my final developmental edits, I can take in the story as it now exists (with the additions or exclusions) and test out for myself if it feels like it’s working better or if it needs some additional changes.
This is the last time I’ll make really big adjustments, from here on out it will be more about detail to word choice, grammar, dialogue mechanics, and sentence structure. When I’m content with my developmental edits, I print out the story.
6.) Intensive Edit I
This is the first stage in my entire writing and editing process that I get a physical copy of my story. As you can see, there are SO many stages and SO many changes being made along the way that it would feel far too wasteful for me to print out a copy for each one. That being said, even though it may not be the best thing for the environment, I do highly recommend a printed version once you get this far along. I’ve read it countless time in craft books and blogs, but I didn’t realize until I tried it myself how much of a difference it would really make to look at the story in a different format.
For my Intensive Edit I, I relocate to my dining room table (they say a change of environment can help you notice different things) and I literally read my story aloud. Again, I’ve seen this recommended countless times but I didn’t appreciate what a difference it would make until I tried it myself. Suddenly, you become aware of sentences that are more awkward than you realized, words that are repetitive, and places where your brain naturally wants to insert a different word, but it’s not the one that’s on the page.
The recommendation is to alter your text so that it fits the natural flow you were expecting. If your brain wanted to finish the sentence a certain way, chances are that your reader’s brain will want to do the same and a different ending will make them stop to re-read, jarring them out of the story. I read aloud with a pen in hand and make note of all the changes I want to make.
Generally, there are A LOT. Sometimes I will re-write entire sentences or take out entire paragraphs that are superfluous. Anything that slows me down has to go, because it will only be more confusing or cumbersome to someone else who hasn’t spent their year looking at those words.
7.) Intensive Edit II
Oftentimes, my Intensive Edit I and II will take place on back-to-back days or even the same day, but I do my best to put a little bit of time between them (and, thus, space between me and the words). At the very least, I will set the printed draft aside for a couple hours to break for lunch. When I come back I have out my red marker and six different colored highlights. Now it’s time to get really intensive!
I’ve designated different colors to six problem areas of writing that I know I struggle with. You may want to focus on something different, but for me those six aspects are:
1.) -ly adverbs
2.) Descriptions with “as” and/or -ing
3.) Stated emotions
4.) Speaker attributions that are not “said” (or “asked”)
5.) Repetitive words
6.) Interrupting beats
Everything that I do in the Intensive Edits II stage is based on the advice you can find in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. They cover more than six problem areas, but six felt like a reasonable number for me to tackle in one go. There is no other book I recommend more if you want to get better at editing, so check it out for yourself and decide what aspects you ought to focus on.
As I read through my story again, I keep a discerning eye out for any of the above issues. Sometimes, I’ll go for a page or two without finding any, other times I’ll find four in one sentence! At this stage, it’s not essential to make the actual changes (although I occasionally do when a better alternative is clear to me). Rather, it’s a time just to acknowledge how often I’m really using -ly adjectives, speaker attributes like “shouted” or “responded” when “said” would do the job, etc.
For me, this is the most intensive but also most important stage of the process. I’ve known about these problem areas for a while and I thought that I was taking them into account throughout the entire process. It’s incredible, though, to see how many of them still sneak into a nearly polished draft! Physically highlighting and being able to tangibly see all these at a glance is so helpful.
8.) Intensive Edits Implementation
For this stage, I return to the computer and work through the draft again. To be honest, I don’t actually re-read the whole story at this stage, but rather focus in on the problem areas I need to re-write. I think it’s important to note that I do not make changes to each and every one of the highlighted items! Just as I mentioned in terms of other people’s feedback, I use my personal discretion to determine which items I’ll change and which ones I’m happy with and that I’ll leave.
For example, it’s not actually good to have NO interrupting beats in your story as that could lead to your scene not feeling alive enough. As such, I will leave approximately half of the interrupting beats that I highlight. Still, I will greatly cut down on them or move them around to be less disruptive.
I turn often to The Emotion Thesaurus to re-write details around emotions into actions and thoughts rather than stating outright that someone felt [x emotion]. I also use Word Hippo to home in on more exact language when I run into issues of repetitive words and -ly adverbs. Often, I’ll start out thinking that I “need” these adverbs because otherwise it’s not clear exactly how an action is done. It often turns out, though, that once I look up some synonyms for my verbs, there are better single-word alternatives that mean exactly what I wanted to say. This is ideal, of course, for the goal of writing as simply as possible without losing clarity.
** At this point, I send my Semi-Final Draft on to my editor. **
9.) Editor’s Edits Implementation
At the time of writing this post, I have not actively reached this stage yet. I have received revision suggestions on a number of stories already, but I am not planning to move onto this stage until I have completed the rest of them for all of my stories. Again, this is because I think it’s a good idea to put some space and time between them.
However, when I do reach this stage, my plan is to go through the drafts very similarly to the way I have with my own intensive edit implementation. I will discern which of the edits I plan to implement and disregard any that I am opposed to.
As a note, many other writers work with an editor on developmental edits, which means that a stage of editor’s developmental edits would need to be accounted for before or after the Beta II Team reading. For this project, I have chosen to work with a copy editor (only line edits and proofreading). That’s why this stage of my process only comes now, towards the end.
Finally, I will read through the entire story again for any small errors such as misspelling, misuse of words (like “you’re” vs. “your” or “credulous” vs. “incredulous”), and so on. You may be thinking “Didn’t your editor just do that?” and the answer would be yes. However, it never hurts to take one last look! That’s not to say that I don’t trust her work. Rather, this is especially important because I will change some words and sentence structures in accordance with her revisions and it’s possible that doing so will lead to a new error that she didn’t have the opportunity to catch.
Once I’ve uploaded my manuscript to Amazon (I’m currently only publishing through KDP, but who knows, that may change), I will request a proof copy and likely re-read the entire manuscript again! I recognize that it must sound needlessly tedious to read through my work so many times but, even after all of these edits, I guarantee you that a typo or a missing comma or something of the like will sneak through and only become apparent when I see it in print again.
The brain gets so used to seeing words written in a certain way (often auto-correcting errors) and so it really makes a big difference to see my work in book format. No matter what, I recommend everyone read through their manuscript in a proof copy before releasing to the public. It just feels different and you will notice things you somehow missed in the previous nine edits!
Phew, we finally made it! If you read this far, you are a champ and well on your way to being a pro-self-editor! Well, at least you’ll be well-versed in my editing process, as it stands at the moment. If you’re a writer, does your process look similar? Drop me a comment below if you like this kind of really detailed account of the writing process and I can plan to share more!
*I wanted to point out that this is my process for short stories, and it may change one day when I start working on novels. Since shorties (for me) generally run from 6,000-12,000 words, they are a substantial piece of work to put through all of these stages, but thankfully I don’t have to spend months to get through each phase the way I imagine I would if I were editing a 80,000 word full manuscript at once.