Editing a Book is like....

Plot Seeds

The Accidental Birth of the Modern Novel

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
I've finally finished editing my second novel. Pleased that I've come in 200 words under the recommended word count of 80,000. I may use those to backfill sentences to add to the impact of them, but for the moment I am heartily sick of editing and even a bit resentful of the story I've devoted seven months of my life to creating.

I need the stimulus of a new project, and will begin to plan and research my third novel today. Explaining the tedium of editing to friends, I've come up with a number of similes, including these:

1) Editing is like going through a fully-grown crop field, your wonderful novel, walking between the rows to find hundreds of weeds. Destroying them by hand, you turn around and walk back finding loads more!


2) Editing is like inspecting a house you've designed and constructed from the foundations up. Initially you walk from room to room, seeing if it's navigable and would be a welcoming place for a reader. Before long, you're crawling the walls like a lizard looking for prey.


3) Editing a book is like examining a bowl of museli with a toothpick, finding some of the ingredients you used are not of the best quality....


What is the editing process like for you?
To me, editing feels like revisiting memories and changing them.

I know that may sound strange, but bear with me for a moment.

As writers, we spend a massive amount of time outlining, writing, and committing this brand new world to memory. By the time we've finished the 80K word story, we're totally ensconced in our own creation. Every action, every conversation, every vista we paint is remembered. These things don't exist, but we've been there. When I edit my stories, I know everything that has come before - and everything that will come after. I know what my characters will do and what they will say. But when I change these things and read through the manuscript again, I'm caught off guard sometimes. I still remember what happened before and when I read those edited lines, suddenly remember that that scene I had so carefully crafted in my head was changed during my third round edit. It may have more impact now, but I'll always remember it the way it was first written.

This is why I say it's like changing memories. And I can't tell you how many times I've gone through on a third edit and forgotten some of the changes I've made. That sudden disconnect between what I remember and what is on the page can be so strange sometimes...
I'm what's commonly called a "pantser"; I don't plan anything. I take what's in my head, get it down on paper as best I can, focusing on the bare bones of story, arc and continuity without necessarily worrying about the quality of the prose.

So for me, editing is like finishing a room remodel. I've done all the general painting, trim and cleanup; I've added carpet and furniture and hung the blinds and drapes.

Now, I'm adding the pictures on the walls, the decorations on the shelves, and all the other little things that make the room beautiful and feel like home.

Finally, after I've lived in the beautiful room for a little while, it's ready for me to give it one last tidying and I can then invite others in.
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The editing process for me is iterative - up and down the rows of weeds. If you are self pubbing then IMHO it's important to use beta readers to help rleorganise the rows and make sure that the seeds are in the best soil and most suitable sunlight. I'm having a structural re-edit done for one of my earlier books - I'll just update and re-issue the e-version when I get the feedback.
I've spent a few days editing book number 5, one chapter to go. Mind you, this is it's sixth and hopefully final edit, now to find some beta readers ;)
I don't mind editing, it's essential but could end up in an endless loop if you aren't careful.
I write sparsely on my first round, and tend to do a lot of fleshing out on my first edit. The second and subsequent edits then take all that flesh and pare it down again. Remember the scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind where Jack Nichols piles mashed potatoes onto a plate, then goes back and adds more, then starts carving Devil's Tower out of them in a manic frenzy? Yeah, that's editing for me. Pile more on, then carve it into shape.

I enjoy those moments of editing when you see a sentence, paragraph, or description that you know doesn't quite work, and you nut it out until it's perfect and shining. Suddenly, it clicks into place--all the words right where they should be, each one doing exactly what it needs to, and not a spare one among them. Ooo! Gives me shivers just thinking of it.
I find it's a lot like doing your hair before a night out. You spend a good half hour with the tangle teaser and hairspray and you look in the mirror like, 'Yeah. I'm nearly good.' Just one uncooperative strand standing between you and A Night of Fun. You mat it down. It looks like shit. You brush a bit, spray a bit, now your hair looks like it's made of adamantium and you try to backtrack but it's just gone flat again like an iron pancake, and that's bad karma for a Friday so you go at it with the spray again. By now your hair is rigid and you're close to passing out with fumes but by God it needs finishing so like a hero you persevere. You tuck the strand behind your ear but even your ear hates you and it sticks up like a middle finger and you know you're screwed and nothing can save this, not even God, you're Hellbound, you're nearly dead and if the disappointment doesn't do it then the cancerous gases will. And then you say FINE, WELL I'M JUST NOT GOING OUT THEN, and you cry over your wine glass until blessed sleep comes to take you.

I don't like editing.
Eventually you get used to editing, cause you do more of that than actual writing... :D
Frankly, I like editing a heck of a lot better than I do writing. There's nothing creative for me to come up with anymore (except the few chapters or subplots I end up inserting here and there). Though it is disheartening after I've worked so hard on my manuscript and finally get this feeling of relief that it's over, and then I have to change stuff because my beta readers tell me they have no clue what's going on... :/
Frankly, I like editing a heck of a lot better than I do writing. There's nothing creative for me to come up with anymore (except the few to change stuff because my beta readers tell me they have no clue what's going on... :/
I take everything that my beta readers say very seriously. The comment that I take most seriously is when they tell me that they can't understand what's happening. In other words, when the continuity has broken down. However, I have learned when not to change my work, especially when I am told how a character should respond to a situation.
I've finally finished editing my second novel. Pleased that I've come in 200 words under the recommended word count of 80,000. I may
What is the editing process like for you?
I love editing. It's like having afternoon tea with my very favourite people. It's also an intellectual challenge, asking me to really get down to observing and understanding the symbolic nature of language.
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Plot Seeds

The Accidental Birth of the Modern Novel