- Example of email and prompts to use when asking friends to read and edit
- Checklist to use when editing your draft yourself
I considered editing ongoing throughout the writing process. A lot of this process overlaps with the writing process, so you may want to read the article, "Writing: Learning how to write fiction, overall evolution of process" for the system I figured out to write North for Sun.
I'll share the basic sequence I used when editing my book:
- At the end of every day, I read out loud everything I had written. I revised when the language didn't sound right. At the start of every writing session, I read what I had written the previous day. I revised according to whatever felt right.
Incomplete draft editing:
- About 60-80 pages into North for Sun, I realized that I didn't know who my characters were or really what was going on in the story. I also knew that my dialogue was bad. I printed what I had so far.
- At this point, I sought out many books and other materials on fiction writing, particularly dialogue, characterization, and plot. You can read about my resource recommendations in the article on writing process.
- Based on these resources, I went back and rewrote all dialogue and flagged sections that made me feel bad about myself.
- I also charted the entire plot on a calendar and a chart with movable Post-It notes. I reviewed the plot for: (1) themes, such as Martha's desires and my intentions with writing the book and (2) building and releasing tension, especially building to the climax. I rearranged scenes many times.
- Then I went back to the end of the draft and continued writing. Somewhere around this time, I came up with a synopsis and title, which helped me capture the themes of Martha's journey.
Rereading of complete draft:
- I went back to the draft and reread the whole thing. I edited extensively. My edits at this stage focused on language, character development, and overall plot arc. I revised and rewrote.
Asking friends to read and edit:
- At this point, I had completed a full, readable draft. I decided I needed feedback, especially on character development and structure. Half of North for Sun involves an unconventional structure that alternates time frames in Martha's story. I wasn't sure at all about whether this structure was too confusing or whether the plot still felt like a progression. I also felt I knew the characters so well that I couldn't judge their development throughout the book.
- I wanted to emphasize to my friends that I was interested in their overall reading experience, rather than notes on specific sections. You can see Technical Tools at the bottom of this section for the prompts I used to show readers what I was interested in. In this email to my friends, I also included the synopsis and genres that I felt related to the story (I don't think my story fits into a certain genre, though).
- I felt very vulnerable about sharing the draft, and I had to think hard about how much feedback I could handle. It was scary to share the book with other people, and I felt sensitive to their reactions. I decided I could share the book with three people. I chose these people based on the different perspectives and reactions I thought they would bring to the reading experience. I said I would check in on their reading experience in two weeks. However, two out of three people took 3-5 weeks to feel comfortable sharing notes. I will definitely give readers more time in my timeline for my next book, so they don't feel pressured, can enjoy the book, and can offer feedback they feel is comfortable.
- Importantly, I formatted my story as a book format before sharing with my four readers. I noticed that the format of the story as a book really affected my own reading experience. I encrypted the file, used a password, and included a watermark that said "Draft."
Break and rereading as a whole, as if it was a real book:
- I took a break for 9 days and did not read my writing. Instead, I worked on other aspects of self-publishing, including this blog, website design, and cover design. I also read fiction I admired.
- After 9 days, I printed the entire novel and read it in 60-page chunks over the course of about three days. During this reading, I didn't interrupt my reading experience to take detailed notes. Instead, I circled parts where language felt awkward for whatever reason, and I drew an X next to scenes that seemed obviously weak.
- After I had read the whole thing, I rewrote the weak scenes, which included rewriting an entire chapter I thought was pretty bad.
- About simultaneously with this rewriting, I wrote out what I considered the main themes of the book. I had done this before, but I tried to codify and consolidate the themes. I kept these themes in mind as I reviewed the plot as a whole. I thought more in detail about the plot, and I realized I had a gap in the plot. I added foreshadowing for the later events of the book to try to make up for the gap.
Focused revisions and rereading as a whole:
- At this point, I felt the draft was approaching the vision I had for the book. My three readers continued reading.
- I went through the book again at least twice (I think more) as an editor, rather than a reader. At this point, I made a detailed checklist for points I wanted to look for. See Technical Tools at the bottom of this article for my checklist. I got points for the checklist from the book, Write Great Fiction: Revision and Self-Editing, by James Scott Bell, which I recommend.
- The points included grammatical details like verb tenses (watching especially for imperfect and past perfect, which can sound awkward). I sometimes use dangling modifiers, so I tried to catch them and alter when they were avoidable. I tried to make sentences more in active voice.
- I also watched for style. I realize I have a tendency for mixing metaphors and similes, to the point that they can be overwhelming or confusing, so I cut metaphors that didn't add much or were redundant with other images.
- Similarly, I cut cliches, or points in the writing where my mind skipped over.
- Checking the voice for consistency also became a huge focus of this reading. I thought Martha's narrative could be vulnerable to inconsistencies in voice, since she experiences many moods, so I tried to provide some background or more detailed thought process when her narrative seemed random.
- At this stage, I also noticed typos that I hadn't caught. I felt terrible about some typos, including a missing verb in the last sentence. I realized it was impossible for me to proofread my own work, and I decided I would hire a proofreader when the draft reached its final form after all reader feedback.
Initial feedback from readers:
- I started taking in feedback from my readers, who identified a lot of great points that I agreed needed revision. They also shared their experience of the overall plot arc, writing style, and in general their engagement of the reading experience. I thought about their feedback and revised the parts of the novel that I thought needed revisions. I did not always agree with my readers, but I found all of their feedback extremely valuable to understanding the reader's experience of the story.
Binge reading session:
- After many rounds of edits, something strange happened. I decided to binge read the novel in a day, for a different type of reading experience. I made few edits, maybe 4-6 in the entire novel. When I read back my edits, I realized that they actually had made the draft worse. I had a feeling that, if I continued to mess around with the draft, the changes would ruin the book. This is when I realized I was done with my own edits. After a moment of pride and exhilaration, it became a sad moment and a real loss in my life. (I started working on the concept for my next book, which became the crowdfunding proposal that I'll cover in a later article.)
- I knew I needed to share the novel with more readers, in order to gauge other perspectives on the story besides my own four readers.
Soliciting even more reader feedback:
- I shared what I considered my personal vision of the book with about eleven of my friends. I mostly shared the book out of happiness to share the story with my friends who had helped me in my life. Out of these friends, I estimated that about half or less would read the book and be able to provide feedback.
- I told all of my friends that they shouldn't worry about taking notes or proofreading at all because I already had four readers reading closely with notes, and I would hire a proofreader. I also told my friends it didn't matter how far they got into the book because I was equally interested in their experience of the beginning of the book. My previous readers had been people I knew would be interested in the plot, and I was interested particularly if these new readers would find the book boring, slow, confusing, unrelatable, etc.
- I was also interested in whether my readers were receiving the intended messages of the story. I regarded their feedback as helpful to calibrating the story to make sure its aspects were completely understandable when I wanted them to be.
Editing based on reader feedback:
- I checked in with this later round of readers in 1-2 weeks on wherever they were at this point in the book. I emphasized that they shouldn't feel pressured to give detailed feedback or to be far into the book.
- From this second round of readers, I gained a lot of understanding on the broad reading experience for other readers. Much of this feedback was brief, but it was all very valuable to understanding how the writing felt to readers. For example, one of the readers commented that they felt very absorbed during specific chapters. I also received great comments on specific parts of the story that people identified as confusing, including the introductions of specific characters. I went back and edited these sections.
Editing with proofreader: I gave a hard copy of the proof at this stage to the proofreader.
I've attached the PDF and here's a link to the document on Dropbox. The password is: [password]
Thanks so much for reading. I can't say how much I appreciate it and how helpful your feedback is. I'm looking forward to hanging out sometime, too.
Note that I edited the excerpt I sent earlier. I'm including the synopsis and a couple points to orient you:
- I consider the genre-ish magical realism and memoir.
- I'm interested in your reactions as a reader at the broad, visceral level. A lot of the issues I have in mind relate to character development, flow, and clarity. See prompts below if helpful. Don't feel like you need to take notes unless you want to, especially since my interests are in your total reading experience.
- This is a draft. I continue to edit. I'm open to whatever the book needs, but right now I aim to format the finalized copy in [timeline].
- Please contact me with thoughts as much or as little you wish. If it works for you, I'll check in in 2 weeks to get feedback on wherever you are. Don't feel bound to my timeline. However far you get is extremely valuable.
How does all this sound? Let me know if it works with your plans. I'm excited for your feedback to make the book better!
Prompts for Email to Early Editors
[Blog Note: Most of these prompts are from Write Great Revision and Self-Editing, which I highly recommend for your editing process.]
What did you like?
What did you think of the plot?
What did you think of the main characters? Anything you liked or disliked?
Any aspects or parts of the book that are memorable to you?
Any aspects or parts of the book that were unclear, confusing, or potentially insensitive?
I wrote the checklist on a whiteboard above my desk to remind me of what I should focus on while I edited. These points are from various writing resources I used, which I review in the article on writing process.