If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen that I recently finished writing a novel! Which is super exciting…except that now I have to edit it. 😱
A confession: I’ve never successfully finished editing a novel.
A few years back, I finished writing my first serious novel (not counting the one I wrote in high school). I did some read throughs, but I was eager to start querying. And while I don’t regret pushing forward with my ultimately goal—publishing a novel—I now know that that particular story had a long ways to go before it was really ready.
Editing my own work is seriously the hardest part of writing. Without a doubt though, I know that this is the novel I want to publish. I know there’s a market for this book. All I have to do now is make sure this next draft is the best it can possibly be.
how to edit a novel (I think)
If you Google this phrase, you’ll come up with a lot of stuff, some helpful, and some not. Ultimately, editing is a lot like writing, in that each person’s process is a little different.
In my research, I came across Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds—which I highly recommend to writers. I’ve never read any of his books since they’re not quite in my genre, but I love the way he talks about the writing process with so much snark but also realism. He has a series of posts on editing that I’ve adopted into my plan. If you’re interested, check it out here.
Phase 1: Initial Read-Through
This is what Wendig calls the “instinct pass.” It’s the first read-through after you’ve finished writing, but your goal is to take notes on any problems you see. Issues get boiled down into two categories: writing problems (clunky wording, etc.) or storytelling problems (everything else).
I’ve used this technique once before, when editing the novel I finished last summer. By forcing yourself to write down every thought that comes up while writing, you come up with a lot of creative solutions to things that jump out in the text. But at this point, you’re not actually changing anything—just coming up with potential shifts in the story.
I’m thinking this initial read-through will take me about 1 week (5 days on, 2 days off).
Phase 2: The Scene-By-Scene Edit
This is the hard part. See, I have this problem with writing where I tend to rush through, whether it’s writing or editing, because I just want to feel done with it. But when I rush through a thing, the results are half-assed at best.
What I like about Chuck Wendig’s method is that he breaks the scene-by-scene editing into specific chunks: copy-editing, content edit, and the contextual edit.
For my purposes, I’m lumping copy-editing in as I go—I’m not able to focus solely on copy-editing. I’m going to start with the content edit, which I’m thinking will end up in two separate read-throughs: one for character development and dialogue, and the other for description and plot structure. (Of course, I may end up doing more read-throughs here, as necessary.) My plan is to use my notes from the instinct pass and see how I feel about the problems I initially pointed out. I’m going to highlight various problems with color-coding, so I can see it better when I go back. But again, this is less about making the changes than pointing out things that need to change.
Because I tend to rush things so much, I’m going to try and spend an entire 4 weeks on this, doing 2 scenes/day @ 5 days/week. We’re going to see how this goes, folks.
Phase 3: the Contextual Edit
Wendig breaks this down really well, but mostly this is about the context of the story as a whole. Did you accomplish what you set out to do with the story? If not, how can you fix that? This is the last phase of my initial re-drafting process, and the one I’m most unsure of how it will turn out.
My educated guess is that the Contextual Edit will take me anywhere from 1-3 weeks.
Phase 4: Let Other Humans Read the Draft; Rinse & Repeat
Once I’ve narrowed down the problems across all fronts, it’s a matter of going back through and making changes. This will most likely involve a lot of re-writing, which means it may take more weeks. My ultimate goal, though, is to have a completed, readable draft by July 31.
Then comes the fun part: trying to harangue people into reading the novel—not just reading, but critiquing. I have this problem where people in my life want to read what I’ve written, but don’t really critique it for me. Their response is usually, “it was good, I really liked it” because they’re afraid of hurting my feelings—or they’re not used to critiquing people’s writing.
So this is where you, dear reader, come in: I need willing beta readers and critiques!
Although I suppose if I’m going to convince you to read the novel, I should give you a synopsis. Unfortunately, I don’t have a title yet, so we’ll go with the working title: BiDepressiveYA.
(unofficial, slapdash) synopsis
16-year-old Ruth Beckman just wants to survive high school and then leave her small Arkansas town behind for good. She’s constantly fighting with her little sister, Hannah, who’s somehow perfect at everything Ruth is not. She’s struggling to deal with college prep schoolwork despite the fact that she’s the only person she knows with no intention of attending college. She’s trying to write a novel, to prove to herself and the rest of the world that she’s serious about being a writer. More than anything, though, she’s struggling for solid human connection.
When Ruth realizes she has romantic feelings for her new friend Alexa, her world is turned upside down. She knows she’s not gay—she’s had way too many serious crushes on boys to be a lesbian. But now, she’s realizing she’s not quite straight either.
As Ruth struggles to come to terms with her bisexuality, she sinks into a serious depression. As the rest of her friends find boyfriends, she finds herself isolating from everyone around her—even the ones who want to help. Increasingly, she can’t sleep, can’t focus on schoolwork, and can’t see an end in sight.
Ultimately, Ruth will have to take responsibility for her mental health, and accept that sometimes, depression doesn’t care if you’re solidly middle class, smart, vaguely pretty, or well-loved. Sometimes, depression just is—but it’s what you choose to do with it that counts in the end.
I would love you to read my novel if:
- you frequently read YA, especially contemporary
- you’re not afraid to be brutally honest about the ways you think the story could be better
- you understand that this is a full-length novel and you’re willing to commit
Bonus points if:
- you’ve struggled with mental health issues in the past (or currently—this should be safe reading for you)
- you identify as queer (especially bisexual)
- you’re a teen (ages 14-19) book blogger
If this description sounds anything like you and if you’re interested in reading for me, let me know! You can comment below with your Twitter handle, or send me a message on Twitter @ storysalve. Otherwise, you can email me @ cewritesx[dot]gmail[dot]com. Thanks so much for tuning in!