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A SAMPLE LESSON FROM BEFORE YOU HIT SEND
by Angela James
How to Start Edits
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The lessons come with a variety of learning paths and supplemental information or action items to help you implement and learn the way that feels best for you!
Where to Start Edits text lesson
Hello, let’s talk about the thing that
causes writer-paralysis, leaves you spending more time cruising social media
than making progress on your manuscript, and causes endless frustration. The
thing that maybe can cause you to fall out of love with the story you once
loved so much…
HOW do I edit this daggone book and
where the heck do I start?
Knowing where to start and how to
tackle edits is sometimes not just half the battle but can sometimes be the
full battle because facing these questions can bring everything to a grinding
halt. So let’s get you into the proper mindset and give some starting points!
The editing checklist is an excellent
tool to have handy as you start edits, especially if you’re someone who’s new
to editing or never worked with an editor before. That checklist can give you a
road map for what comes next but also give you some easy things to check off!
When you start edits, remember the
order in which edits should take place:
Stage 1: Developmental Edits (big
picture edits, pacing, story arc, plot, conflict, characterization,
Stage 2: Line Edits (sentence and
paragraph level, look at craft, language, sentence structure, creative writing.
It’s not about the errors, it’s about the *way* you write…).
Stage 3: Copy Edits (fact-checking,
grammar, punctuation, detail consistency…).
Stage 4: Proofreading (the final polish
*A note about the editing stages: each
stage may include multiple passes of that type of edit (for instance, you may
do two or three stages of Content Edits). And while there may be some overlap
between adjacent stages, where you do some line editing along with content
edits, for instance, there will be minimal overlap between Stage 4
(Proofreading) and Stages 1 and 2 (Content Edits and Line Edits).
You may be tired of hearing me say this
but you may be tempted to start with the proofreading and copy editing because
those are so concrete and easier to achieve, but don’t get distracted by these
micro changes when you haven’t yet done the macro changes.
Doing that will cost you more time in
the long run because you’ll be fiddling with things
that will change as you make content and line edits.
So the first step in saving yourself
time is starting in the right place.
But, Angela, what is the right place?
Glad you asked, Author!
Let me give you the worst possible
answer and then give you some ways to narrow it down.
Arrgh, the worst! The actual worst!
But it does depend. For each of you,
the process is going to look a little different so what you’re going to do is
start developing your process.
As you grow as a writer, your editing process
will evolve and change. The editing process is a lengthy one the first few
times you write and edit a book because you’re growing your craft, learning
your trouble spots, and figuring out where you shine. Give yourself time and
room to go through this process because there’s no hurry (don’t rush your
learning) when you’re first starting out.
Those of you who are already
publishing? If editing isn’t going so well for you or books aren’t selling or
reviews are tanking your editing, you might also benefit from taking some time
to go through this more lengthy editing process on a book so you can start
thinking even more analytically about your work.
All of that said, when you look at the
steps below, it’s up to you to decide which ones will fit into a manageable
editing process. Depending on your writing and editing experience, you may need
With that said, here’s my suggestion
for where to start may look initially as you learn to edit your own
- As you’re writing the book, make note of trouble spots.
Places where you got stuck, where you struggled to find the right rhythm,
where the characters may have felt they weren’t cooperating.
- Finish the book.
- Now, some people like to edit as
they go, and that’s totally fine. You can adapt this process to work for
you if that’s your jam! But if you’re not making a lot of process in
getting to “The End” because you keep editing and re-editing, well…then
you should finish the book, even just a rough draft, and then edit.
- Let it rest for at least a week.
- That means don’t look at it,
don’t speak to it, don’t open the file. This is hard! But you can be
jotting notes for yourself as you’re letting it rest. If you have more
time, a few weeks is even better. Give yourself some distance. Start
writing the next book. Focus on your newsletter, your website, your
social media. There are other things you can be doing during this time!
- After the rest period, read the whole book from start
- Here you have to figure out what
works for you. Giving yourself time to read the whole thing from front to
back without long periods of interruption for editing allows you to
better see the entire picture of the book and get a sense of the pacing,
what’s working, what isn’t, what’s missing and what needs to be further
developed. Instead of stopping to edit, take notes on areas you notice
need your particular attention.
- What types of things are you
looking for in this read? Pacing, story arc, character arc,
characterization, relationship development, mystery/suspense/thriller
development, the beginning, the end, world building, timeline. Basically,
you’re making sure that all the things that were in your head that need
to be on page are on page, and that the story works as a whole unit, and
is enjoyable for the reader.
- Don’t forget to take note of the
parts that you really like and think you did well. You need to work in
the high points while you’re critiquing your own work, but it’s also
great to notice what you rock at, so you can do more of it!
- Decision time: what part of the story that you took
notes on has the most overarching impact on the entire book? Plot? World building?
Relationship development? Suspense elements? Conflict? Work on this first.
There may be a few big things you’re tackling at the same time, such as
characterization and relationship development, but don’t try to focus on
all the things all at once. You’re honing your skills so take them one at
- Now move on to other content edits and edit for those.
Keep a checklist that you can run down as you address different things.
- Time to read the book again from start to finish so you
can get the bird’s-eye view of the story and all of the changes you’ve
made and new elements you’ve incorporated.
- Do any additional content edits needed.
- NOW you can move to line editing. If you haven’t
already, this is where listening can come in handy. Listen to a few
chapters to get a sense of your writing style, sentence structure, craft,
- After line edits, you get to move on to the fun, easier
things to look for on the copy editing checklist.
- And proofread.
- Then read the book again one last time!
I want to reiterate, this is an editing
process meant to give you a structured way of breaking down how you look at
your work, especially as an early writer. As you begin to publish, this longer
process may not always be possible, but the general structure of it should be
Stage 1: Developmental/Content Edits.
Stage 2: Line Editing.
Stage 3: Copy Editing.
Stage 4: Proofreading.
TAKE ACTION: Using
the worksheet on pages 14–15 of your Course Workbook, begin outlining the
process you’re going to use for edits, so you have it to refer to when you’re
ready to begin editing. This will prevent you from flailing and trying to find
your notes from this course and spending time figuring out how to start.
Instead, with your process outlined, you’ll be able to get right to it!
AI PROMPT: This one is going to require you to do
some work first. The idea here is to use ChatGPT to think of things to look at
in the editing process that you might overlook or not think of initially.
Step 1: Go through this lesson and the
editing checklist lesson and make a list of everything that you want to put on
your editing checklist (You can use the provided checklist as an example).
Step 2: Put a prompt similar to this
into AI: playing the role of a fiction novel editor, analyze this list: [paste
your list here]
Step 3: After ChatGPT responds, continue
the conversation with this prompt: what additional items should be included in
the area of developmental edits?
Step 4: Continue the conversation,
asking it questions about additional edit areas, give it specific directions
about what genre and subgenre you write and ask it to expand your list with
that knowledge, or tell it some of the areas you struggle with and ask it to
suggest additional areas to expand your checklist.
Step 5: Once you have a list, enter this prompt “Please put all of the items into a checklist format I can copy into a document.” Or you can ask it to create a table (give it header names) or a spreadsheet. You decide!
Course Workbook: Action Guide: Editing Process, pp. 14–15
If you haven’t already looked at the workbook pages “How to
Develop Your Editing Checklist” and “How to Develop Your Style Guide,” READ
Those two worksheets will give you a road map for navigating the
creation of your checklist and style guide and help you focus on how you’re
developing not just those concrete actionable lists, but also will help you
focus on growing your editing confidence.