Editing My Writing Journey

You’ve finished drafting your novel – now what?

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

And so another year draws to a close. If, like me, you spent November writing or finishing your draft novel, and December recovering letting it rest, you’re probably eyeing January and the new year just around the corner as your chance to polish that sucker into something that shines.

This coming year is going to be a *big* editing year for me – a final polish on a manuscript that is ready to come out of the query trenches, a first pass edit on a standalone speculative fiction novel I’m taking to the Futurescapes Writers Workshop in March, and an editing-while-writing process I’ll undertake on my YA contemporary fantasy trilogy with each book in different stages of development (Book 1 completed and rough edges filed down, Book 2 a very rough draft completed in this year’s NaNoWriMo, and Book 3 broadly outlined but otherwise untouched).

During 2022: The Year of Editing, I’ll be drawing on as much help, guidance, and feedback as I can get. I’ll be posting (a bit more regularly) here on how it all goes, and sharing with you the craft books, techniques, and tips that are working for me.

So, with that in mind, maybe we should take a step back and discuss what I mean when I say I am ‘editing’ a novel (or short story, or other form of literature). Editing, in my humble opinion, is the process by which we take the raw material of the words we have put down on the page, the story in its original and unfettered form, and refine it.

Sometimes that process happens at the micro, sentence and word level – where our word choice or syntax or voice isn’t hitting the right notes. George Saunders, literary hero and Booker Prize winner, imagines this type of line-edit revision as the product of a little metre in his head with a ‘P’ (for Positive) on one side and an ‘N’ (for Negative) on the other. As he reads his words, in the same headspace (or as close to) as he would someone else’s words, he notes his “honest, in-the-moment reactions”, and reworks the prose until the metre’s needle stays in the ‘P’ zone for the entire length of text. Sometimes we attempt this process at the end of a piece, and sometimes this micro-level revision happens as we are writing – we start to write one thing, hear how it sounds in our head as we write it or see how it begins to look on the page, and promptly change it (and change it again, and perhaps change it back).

Other times, the editing process happens at a more macro, world-building and plot-structure level – where we feel, despite our original intentions for the story and in contravention of our immaculate and detailed outline, the story isn’t as cohesive or engaging or authentic as we need it to be. This type of developmental edit is reminiscent of painters who, after spending hours just centimetres away from the canvas painting tiny, multi-hued dots, take a step back to appraise how the work appears as a whole. And just like the more macro edits, this can happen at the end of a piece (a chapter, an act, a story) or it can happen throughout, just as we are about to put the word or sentence on a page (the ‘wait; does this make sense to be here, at this part of the story? Does it put what has come before in a whole new light?’ moment).

Image courtesy of Trey Gibson via Unsplash

Line editing and developmental editing are the two forms I’ll be focusing most of my effort on next year. Once I get them right, I’ll move onto finer edits – copy editing (checking for consistency (e.g. in spelling and capitalisation conventions, character descriptions, time passage, etc)) and proof-reading (weeding out spelling and grammar errors).

So, if all this editing stuff sounds like the tonic you’ve been after to revive your messy manuscript – let me know in the comments, bookmark this page (I’ll update it with each new post in the series), and click through to the first entry on Matt Bell’s Refuse to Be Done: How to Write and Rewrite a Novel in Three Drafts.

See you in the editing trenches!

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