Following is an article by Brian Grove about the process of editing. Given that I just finished editing my second book, Bobby Ether and the Temple of Eternity, two days ago, I can relate to what he has to say on the subject. I definitely agree that some initial edits in the moment are appropriate, but that you should stick with your gut and move on quickly. I also really like his comments about not coming back to edit again until they’re no longer your words (“Only edit what you couldn’t re-write from memory”).
I also agree that you should have a trusted reader with a keen eye, who can help identify trouble issues. No matter how good you are, two sets of eyes are always better than one. Here is Brian’s post:
How (Not) To Edit A Book
I hate editing. I hate it because I’m obsessed with it. Editing is a writers disease, and it can be debilitating. Take the title of this article for example; How (Not) To Edit A Book or How To (Not) Edit A Book? If you get my point.
I used to wake up every morning, read what I’d written the day before and think ‘this as awful,’ and start chopping it about. It usually didn’t end there either. I’d then start editing what I’d just edited, and the pointless cycle would begin. That’s the trouble with computers, they make it so easy to do.
It’s an absolute truism that you can edit the soul out of a book. Some authors, a couple of which I know, don’t have this problem. They write exuding a fluid confidence, and I’m a bit jealous of them.
Prior to publication I was advised to prepare for the possibility I may not recognize some of my book after it had been through the editorial process. But my publishers hardly changed anything. Rather than a ringing endorsement of my editing skills they were probably more concerned editing might alter the context of important facts, being a non-fiction book. Glancing over it now, as I very rarely do, I still have ’that sentence isn’t right’ moments, and remember versions I should have left in.
The solution for over-editing is to develop a system to deal with it. What I did, quite late in the process I admit, was to impose restrictions on myself. So here is my personal 4 point plan for effective editing of a book.
▪ Do not edit any section of your book until you have left it for some time and put it out of your mind. Only edit what you couldn’t re-write from memory.
▪ The first edit: As soon as you’ve read a paragraph, make an instant decision, change a word or two, or re-arrange a sentence, and stick to it. Give yourself one opportunity only. The default position should be to leave the work alone.
▪ The second edit. The second edit should only happen some weeks after you’ve completed a piece. You should be looking at large sections of your work, perhaps even an entire chapter. Read the work as you would read any book and make quick notes. Make the necessary changes based on those notes alone.
▪ The third and final edit. This should be a combination of three things. Firstly, give your work to someone you trust to give you an honest opinion. Based on that person’s advice, have one more read through the entire work and tidy up any loose ends. The final element will be your publishers. They will inevitably change your work at least to some degree. Don’t take this personally, it can simply be for production reasons.
▪ A fourth solution is to employ a professional editor. I recommend Ben Smith at http://www.englishauthorservices.com. He is a retired university lecturer who offers a full range of editing services and, also, a review service for your manuscript. I have received excellent feedback about his work from clients.
I’m now going to leave this article for a while before editing. I’ll give it one final edit prior to publication. I am learning, slowly.