When I’m going to edit my own work, my process is usually predictable and simple.
Step one: Print the entire manuscript out.
Step two: Mark each individual chapter with post-it notes so chapters are easier to identify.
Step three: Break the book into 4ths–to the nearest chapter ending. So if the 1/4 mark is on page 60 and the chapter doesn’t end until page 63, the first quarter will contain 63 pages.
Step four: Use paper clips to keep each fourth separated and together, except for the quarter I am working on. I do not always order the quarters in chronological order, though I am only allowed to work in one quarter at a time.
Step five: Edit an entire quarter.
Step six: Transfer notes for quarter edited onto computer.
Step seven: Start on next quarter
Step eight: Repeat step five, six and seven until the entire manuscript is edited.
Step nine: Incorporate final notes and clean up final passages from edit.
During my first semester in Spalding’s MFA program, I’ve already seen a change in my editing processes, mainly due to needing to get my requirements throughout the semester, but the new procedure seems to have a much stronger effect on my novel than my original way of editing. I can see and feel the changes in the novel almost instantly, whereas I may need to go through the above process three or four times before I truly noticed a consistent change in the draft, sometimes in entire chapters.
What is this new, more effective way of editing? It’s simple really.
I’ve been breaking the novel into sections for my packets. About 40 pages each–to the nearest chapter ending. So if I’m on my third pack of 40–with the packet supposed to end on page 120–but the nearest new chapter ends on page 119, I’d break it a page short. I work on the forty page section for three weeks. I am not allowed to work outside those 40 pages during those three weeks. If I make all the major changes to the draft before my three weeks is up, I start at the beginning of the forty pages and do a deeper edit, grammar, sentence structure, smoothness, general clean up. If their are changes I still want to make at the end of the three weeks, I make a note of it and MOVE onto the next section of forty pages.
How is what I’ve been doing, different from what I’ve started doing? Honestly if you break my novel down–at least before I started editing it, I’d have only had 5.5 sets of 40. So, I’d only be adding a section and a half to my original idea, which can’t make too much of a difference right?
I think the difference is the forced three weeks to work on the section. By setting that time limit, I force myself to slow down, to really look at my writing, no matter how much I may want to be done with the round of editing. Without the time limit set, I would push through the entire novel at my pace. I’d make notes to make major changes, however I missed a lot of the changes that were also needed in that same section because I wasn’t looking closely enough. This also works to keep me motivated, focused on working on my story, so that I can make sure all the changes that need to happen can be made, instead of delayed for another draft.
If you’re needing a new method of editing, this one may be worth trying.