What's the best way to clear out a room of writers? Just yell, "Time to edit!" and see what happens. It won't be pretty. You'll have a group of frantic, panic-stricken, crazy people! Because seriously, the worst part of writing a book is going back to hack it to bits, aka editing.
But, what if I told you, there is an easier way? A magic formula to make editing a breeze!
Well-- then I'd be lying. Because there is no easy way around it. Editing is hard work. It takes dedication and commitment to your novel and characters. Not to mention hundreds of hours. For every one hour of writing, I probably put in another one, two or three hours of editing.
What?! Yes. It's true. And if by some miraculous chance you are able to churn out literary genius page after page without having to slice and dice your manuscript-- well then you better serve up some gratitude to whatever Gods you pray to. Because for the rest of us, it ain't that easy peasy!
I may not be an expert. But, I am happy to share some helpful hints I've learned along the way, besides the obvious (use spell check).
Print a copy of your manuscript and read it like a real book.
There's just something about looking at your words on paper vs. a computer screen that makes you feel accomplished and points out your flaws! Having a tangible thing to hold onto gives you opportunity that your computer cannot-- a place that you can write in the margins or highlight areas you want to expand upon. You can flag it, rearrange chapters, flip it around, whatever you want! Hell, you should read it just like you would any other book. In bed, by the pool, at your kids soccer practice.
Read your book out loud.
There are times when you write and it will sound like Shakespeare in your head. But, the moment you actually speak the words out loud you realize it's hot garbage. The phrasing is all wrong, the tempo, the pace compared to the rest of your story. When you say the words, you can hear it and feel it. What's really nerve wracking is letting someone read your book out loud to you.
Work your way backwards.
Sometimes, it helps to edit from back to front. It can be easy to get hung up and tangled in the first few chapters. Re-working, re-writing, re-doing them until you're so twisted up inside that you forgot how the damn thing is supposed to end. My advice-- stop! GO to the end! What happens to your main character? Once you've reminded yourself of your ending, it's easier to figure out the feeling and themes you need to focus on in the beginning.
Write something new.
If you are having a hard time making sense of how to edit your book, then move on. Put it away. Start working on a new project. I promise, if you can go back to your novel with fresh eyes and some perspective, you will have a break through in the editing process. Suddenly you'll see why the plot felt too loose and fast in chapter three and you'll pick up on that underlying theme, the one that should be brought out into the light a lot sooner.
And my last hint...
Hire a pro.
When in doubt, hire a pro. Check my blog post 6 Websites for Writers for a list of sites that offer meaningful help and tools for writers. Including, how to hire and vet a professional book editor. I've hired developmental editors to help me find plot holes and to help me narrow down my ideas. It is an investment, but well worth the price!