So, I will start out this editing post with a note. This is my editing process. It may or may not work for you. When I began editing, this was not the path I followed, but editing is an evolution.
I edit in stages. It’s easiest for me to break it down by what I’m looking for. These are the things that I know I screw up on every draft (and I know this thanks to my wonderful agent, critique partners, and beta readers).
How I Write
When I write a first draft, the goal is to get the bones down as quickly as possible. I start every project with a detailed outline, and if there are a lot of characters/deaths, a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet will contain details such as description, bio, age, relationship with the MC, arc, and cause of death. Depending on what the subject matter is, I will begin researching/interviewing before I write the manuscript.
Sometimes questions will come up during the drafting/editing process, so additional interviews are often needed after the first draft is done.
All of my manuscripts are written long-hand (handwritten in a notebook). Yes. Really.
Note: I’m often asked how quickly I write. My fastest first draft (40k words) was written in two weeks, my slowest, six months (80k words).
How I Edit
The first edit, is typing up what I’ve written in my notebook (This usually takes me a week to ten days). Sometimes it’s real, real, rough. So I spice up some scenes, add dialogue, and try to take an objective look at the plot itself. Is it too slow? Am I missing something? Do I even like these characters?
The second edit, my focus is always on the structure and the voice of the character. Writing it, and typing it up, it really helps me see where I’m at with character development. I note issues with the characters, with the relationships, and scenes that I still need to write.
Then, I rewrite my outline. Most of my first outlines are about HALF the length of what my second outlines are. I make a checklist of everything I need to change, and everything I need to write.
The third edit, a lot of this edit is writing. Writing up the chapters I missed in the first draft, and putting them into the MS where they belong.
The fourth edit, re-reading all new chapters, overall plot. Adjusting dialogue and character relationships. At this point, I take a harder look at my grammar, and sentence structure but that’s still not my focus.
The fifth edit, this is getting into the final stages, at this point I’m pretty happy with the story overall. I focus on making sure all the arcs I want are in place/working. Sentence structure, grammar, continuity, timing, and making sure I’m showing not telling are the main things I’m looking at here.
Depending on the type of story, at this point I may have to create a calendar to map out events to be sure they’re happening at the right times. Especially if I have time jumps, or flash backs.
At this point, I usually do one final read through, and send the baby off to my critique partners/beta readers ESPECIALLY if I still feel like something isn’t quite right. I don’t usually tell my beta readers what I don’t think is right, because I want them to read it objectively without me coloring their responses.
The sixth edit, ripping the MS apart based on feedback (making a new checklist), and duct taping it all back together again. Sometimes these edits are substantial, sometimes they’re minor fixes. Every MS is different.
The seventh edit, the final edit. This is the final editing stage. Cleaning up the few remaining typos (how the hell are there still typos?!) and making sure everything is polished and shiny for my agent.
Well, that’s it. This process takes me anywhere from one to three months. Usually six weeks is the sweet-spot. One of the biggest helps with editing is understanding your weaknesses. If you know your weaknesses, it’s easy to look for those specific issues as you edit. I recommend having at least a few beta readers, specifically people who will tell you the truth. AND at least one critique partner, again, someone who will tell you the truth. You’re not looking for someone to be mean, or rip your work apart — constructive criticism is the goal here.