Editing Hacks For Writers

editing hacks

Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com recently published an article by Jess Lourey and Shannon Baker on editing hacks which will revolutionize your writing. Even though the article was a success I felt it could have brought more to the table.

They wrote tips such as reading your novel out loud or summarizing your scenes on notes and sticking them up on a cork-board.

Even though these tips are good, I felt like we all knew that already. Cork-board technique is the biggest selling point for Scrivener and everyone in the industry will tell you to read your novel aloud.

So, for that reason, I prepared a list of things I do when editing fiction. These hacks are adjustable for length as long as we are talking about fiction. Non-fiction is a different story all together and we will come to that!

To refresh your memory, here is a post about editing we published earlier.

Editing Hacks

With no time wasting, let’s dive in!

Give It Time

Once you hit that word-count and feel like you have said everything that needed to be said, leave it be. A month is a universally agreed upon amount of time. So, when you win this year’s NaNoWriMo let it simmer during December. Let it incubate.

In the meantime, write a short story or a poem or an article. It is a nice way to detach yourself from your novel. Have a nice celebration cocktail and come up with a short story or two to write. If you need help getting inspired, here are our October prompts. And once you write it, here is where you can submit it.

Only when you feel you are far away from your novel, you may start the editing. This is when you read it from beginning to end.

Be Ruthless With It

I know it is hard to cut out those perfect lines and throw them out. I suffer from the same condition but we all must summon our courage and start cutting. Here is a good cutting method I’ve learned.

Cut out the single biggest part in your novel without hurting your novel. For example, if you spent the whole first act talking about irrelevant things not contributing to the plot or character development, cut out the whole act.

Of course, you couldn’t have missed the point of the first act, but the point is – be brave, if you see the whole act is unnecessary then cut it out.

Do you have a subplot or another plot line or a character? Do they bring anything to your main plot or influence your protagonist’s journey? No? Cut them out.

Next, cut out a chapter. All chapters are only links in a chain or dots in a circle. If you have a chapter that is only a filler to pump up your word-count then you must cut it. No matter how cool the flashback is or how wickedly awesome the time machine described there for no purpose was, it is ruining your novel.

Then cut out a scene. After that, cut out a paragraph. Not cut out a line. Now cut out a word. And cut out all the words you feel sound a little bit strange or you aren’t sure about. You can give it all to your Petreon supporters who want some extra material or your e-mail subscribers.

Have Beta Readers

This is a general one and everyone will tell you this so I must too. Gather five to ten people who are avid book readers, who love the genre you wrote in, who can give you constructive criticism (so no, not mom) and who are willing to read your manuscript.

By this point, you should have read your manuscript again and filled any plot holes you might have had or made during all that cutting. Ask your beta readers only to read the novel and give them two to three weeks to do it.

Don’t ask any questions before they read the book – that is a way to spoil the experience or worse, tell them what to expect. You won’t have the genuine reading experience in those comments, you’ll only get opinions on matters you raised.

After they finish reading, ask them to give you feedback. If you wish, you can make a little questionnaire for them or yo can simply ask them to write a book report. Also, ask them to underline everything they felt wasn’t completely right.

Also, don’t listen to every single criticism. If one person dislikes you protagonist out of five or ten readers, that’s great, you won. But if three out of five readers say they couldn’t justify the protagonists behavior or couldn’t connect to them, you have a problem.

Think Twice

We often use words that we don’t need (‘that’ comes to mind). So, if you are using Scrivener (or even Word or Libre Office) you can check the number of times a word was used. You will be amazed at how many times you wrote ‘just’ or ‘that’.

Try breaking the pattern. Don’t use those words too much. Look for synonyms or cut them altogether.

Think twice about every word you use.

Stop

But where do you stop? Well, somewhere. You have to stop somewhere. You’ll have read your book ten times in the least, from the first to the last page. You’ll have cut and written so many scenes that you will hardly remember what is good and what should be out.

So, when you are completely and utterly sick of your book, stop editing.

Conclusion To Editing Hacks

These are some of the most useful things that will make your book. You can in a great extent use these techniques for short stories or novellas.

This is one of the ways to bring your book closer to the publishing condition. You will have read it so many times by now and you will know it by heart. So, now hire a professional to have a look.

Note: Cover Photo taken by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels. Pexels is our life-saver here and it is filled with amazing photos that will suit your every need.

Author: Mladen Reljanović

Mladen Reljanović is the founder and lead writer at Writer to Writers. He is the author of Oaktown stories, senior student of communication and a pianist.

10 thoughts on “Editing Hacks For Writers

  1. Great advice although the idea of cutting a whole chapter makes me nauseous. I’m hoping I haven’t written any filler chapters, that everything in my novel is important. Probably not the case. I’ll keep your advice in mind when I ruthlessly start revising my next novel.

  2. Here’s a topic you might research and write about what you find: The theory that you should just write the first draft as quickly as you can.

    Here’s where I take issue with that theory. Time.

    What if you just don’t have the physical time to do a lot of writing? What if you can only write 1-3000 words on weekends? If we say 2000 words per week, that’s nearly a year of writing to get to 90k words. And that’s if you’re dedicated.

    So, that theory fails out of the gate, regarding the speed of the 1st draft.

    The second problem with it is that they say, don’t ever edit your first draft until you’re done with it.

    Nonsense! If you have to take six or eight or ten months to get a book written, of course you’re going to go back and re-read your prior work, if nothing more than to recall, and remind yourself what it was that you wrote four months ago! And when you go back and re-read it… You’re going to edit it.

    I’ve been writing my latest book for six months now. And I won’t be done this year. Why? Because I have a day job and can’t invest the time except for the weekends.

    So, your thoughts? Your research? What do others say about this topic?

    Luck!

    1. Very good question. And I will try to sum up the answer here.

      First, there are ways to improve the speed. Doing writing sprints is one of those (NaNoWriMo post explains this exercise in more depth).

      Second, there is nothing wrong with writing slowly. If time won’t allow you to write faster than you just have to keep your pace at the best possible level.

      Third, concerning editing. Well, they say you shouldn’t edit while writing not because you would lose time on it but because the goal of the first draft is to make that pile of words you’ll later edit. And we edit later because we want a coherent voice throughout the novel. So many times I discovered that chapters sound as if they were written by different people because I wasn’t in the same mindset while writing them. Also, when you move from a slow-paced chapter to an action sequence on which you work for a week, the voice you are using might translate into the editing of the previous chapter if you edit it simultaneously. Reading previous chapters is fine, correcting typography is fine but it takes the valuable time that could be used for writing. But, that’s the line. Editing any further can hurt the rest of your novel. It can be unevenly edited in the end, and that’s the problem with early editing.

      My little piece of advice would be: keep your pace. Write as much as you can. Ty improving the speed if you can. Use some little pieces of time you have (15 minute break, commute, skipping TV one night – those are the slots I fill with writing) to simply put out the words. Then, when the pile is ready, go from the beginning to the end and edit in one voice, in one mindset, determined to edit it.

      I hope this helps 🙂

    2. Thanks for the time writing that. I can that your points regarding voice and unevenly editing have some solid basis and will consider those in future. However, as we all know, there’s no one way to write. Stretching out the writing effort seems to be one topic that is generally ignored. “Catcher in the Rye” took 10 years… Re-reading past chapters is not a luxury, it’s a must when done this way. “What the hell did I say 100 pages ago? Ah, that’s right.”
      Sure NaNoWriMo is a great gimmick. But I’m sure 99.99% of the output is schlock. And Come January, or February, all the publishing agents rue the prior November. “Curse you NaNoWriMo!”

    3. Hmm well, possibly. But, NaNoWiMo isn’t at all about having finished novel ready for publishing. It’s only about motivating us to reach the word-count. And of course, once we hit that 50k the novel will be utterly bad but better work with a bad novel to make it good than with no novel 😀

    4. I’ve heard that before — bad novel in hand. Well, I’ve got one in hand (not bad just needs major edits) and frankly, I’d wish I’d not written it until I had my skill chops more inline. So, maybe if an author has excellent writing skills, NaNo might be a good impetus to get’r’dun. But for the rest of us, it’s just more opp to write schlock that will never see the light of day.

      Sure the practice of “writing”, they say, is good for one’s skills. But I look at it more like, I’ll build a really crappy house (because I don’t know better), and never live in it because it’s a death-trap. All that work, what, just so I could learn how to saw and nail? Bah, I’d wish I’d learned out to saw and nail before I started building a house!

      Practice — absolutely. But, to me, I’ll practice on tiny pieces so I can understand the skills necessary to build a house.

    5. Definitely! I always suggest writing shorts first. Even flash fiction. Anything you write improves you as a writer. But reading more than anything!

      And I’m not either the first nor the most famous one to say: ‘First draft of everything is sh*t!’ 😀

      So, no matter how skilled one is, it first takes a pile of badly constructed words – or bricks if you like. Then it takes extensive polishing, cutting/sawing and rewriting 🙂

What are your thoughts on this?