I am now more than half-way through the first round of edits for the book I finished at the beginning of April. I am no stranger to editing. I inherited some very rough copy when I started my last job, and spent most of my word-related production time editing other people’s writing. I have also been a critique partner for many other writers, as well as a reviser of my own manuscripts for many years now. (Fun note: almost everyone I have critiqued a book for has now been published. I feel so proud.) I am currently weighing the differences and similarities between editing a 1500 word web article and a book. And the only notable difference I can come up with is the time investment. An 85,000 word book is simply longer. My process for working through the issues is very similar.
First, I start with the bones. Does each point, piece, and scene matter in the overall structure? Does it move the idea/plot forward, or does it distract? If it distracts, does cutting it leave a hole that I then have to fill with another bone? If it matters, is it in the best location for the flow of the story/article? I then delete, add, and move the pieces around until the flow is right. Doing this with a book is harder, since there are so many words and scenes to wade through. Working with Scrivener, which allows you to separate your scenes and use digital note cards to track your plot, helps. But it’s very likely that I will end up with physical note cards spread out along the floor at some point in this process.
Once the skeleton has been put together, it’s time to turn an eye on the transitions and details. Does the end of one section or scene carry the reader into the next section or scene? Transitions in an article should be largely invisible. The reader should not trip as they move from section to section. Creativity in transitions is good, but subtlety is best. A book allows you to play: You want a reader to be asking herself “what happens next?” each time she comes to the end of a scene.
I do not spend much time editing language until the very final pass-through. I would be lying if I said that I don’t touch language at all before this point. Words are like music to me, and I sometimes get lost in the tuning even when I am looking at the bones, because playing with words if the most fun part of writing. I love seeking the right scales and notes to relay the world, mood, and tone. But before my final edits, words are not a stated priority. In articles, this is where tone is truly set. In a book, this is where the poetry of description is cultivated.
With my book edits, I am still shifting bones around. The story was reasonably solid in draft one, but it needs some additional chiropractic work before I can dive into language and lose myself. I enjoy the logic puzzle of cutting, adding, and rearranging, but I can’t wait to play with the music of the words.