Creating and distilling

This week I’m working on multiple projects including a novel, a nonfiction book, at least two how two projects, and helping one of my team edit a story he’s writing for school. Amid all this, I find myself thinking about two of the most important steps in any writing project.

This week, in the novel, I wrote what will hopefully be the last two new chapters (until book two at least…). On the other side of the house (in nonfiction land) I have yet to write more than a paragraph or two; and yet, I’m making good progress on the project.

Next week I hope to create a full chapter in the nonfiction book and do relatively little new writing on the novel. The two projects will have flipped between phases. This week I’m creating on the novel and distilling information on the nonfiction book. Next week the nonfiction will finally be at the writing (creating) phase and I will distill information on the novel.

Creating and distilling are both very necessary phases in writing. You need to do both.

Creating may look different depending on what you’re working on. And distilling may be an early step and a late step depending on your project. But they both need to happen.

In writing, creating includes writing text and outlines of what you want to say. It may also include world building and other tasks where you’re creating elements of story. It’s vital, but just doing the creating doesn’t get you a readable book. The distilling makes your creation readable, understandable, and compelling.

Distilling comes in two flavors, editing (can’t succeed without it) and shaking out your pile of information and deciding what goes into the writing you create. But distilling won’t get you anywhere if you don’t create something to edit.

If you’re writing fiction, you might go directly to the creating part. I have a stack of story ideas and a world I’ve already , so it’s just a case of “grabbing parts and getting to the building”.

If you’re writing nonfiction, you’ll probably want to start with some distilling before you put words on paper. For the chapter I’ll write next week I started this week with 160 pages of information to work from, and I’m hoping for a 15-25-page chapter. So… I have seven to ten or twelve times the amount of material that I really want. And that’s before I add my own words! I have to shake that data pile down a bit. By spending this week reading and making notes, I’ve been able to isolate what I really need from my source material and figure out where my own words come in.

Next week I will write that nonfiction chapter and the following week I’ll be editing it, the same process I’m doing with the novel.

Editing isn’t just about finding typos. Good editing also includes working on your writing to make best use of your words. Your writing needs to be clear. You need the finished product to create a chosen effect and accomplish particular goals. Distilling your writing is part of that.

The editing/distillation process is where we cut out the extraneous material. We refine the work so it is readable and creates the picture we want it to. We may occasionally find a part that needs more words, but if you’re still adding words, you’re not done editing (99% of the time…).

Writing isn’t just putting words on paper. Yeah, we have to write words (creating), but we also need to make sure the words we’ve written are the ones that need to be there (distilling). It is only by applying both processes that our words really gain power and the ability to do what we want them to.

That’s it for this one, dear reader. There’s editing to be done and I still have to get down to the basement to do the other kind of “makin’ stuff” (the projects never stop). Good luck with your writing dear reader. And I’ll see you next post.

Finding the end and going back to the beginning.

Well, the first 1 ½ pass is finished for last November’s NaNoWriMo project. And, as always, I’ve learned a lot!

Starting with the1 ½ pass method has had a distinct benefit. By reading and noting on the whole thing before I started making edits I could make better decisions than I have on the first pass for early books (I really wish I’d known about the 1 ½ pass technique back when the first edition of Johnson Farm came out…).

This first editing pass has led to major changes. As things stand now, the end of the book in the first draft is actually the end for the second book. I realized I was rushing events in my “third act” far too much. It didn’t work because I wasn’t letting it develop. The natural ending for the first book was actually about 100 pages earlier.

I still love the events of those 100 pages, and by putting them into a second book I can give them the space and development they really deserve. I can also develop my former “1st” and “2nd” acts (the real story of the first book) to perfection, because I’m not sweating the upper word limit my intended publisher has set for a mid-grade book.

I know. I know. Even I’ve said we should cut when editing. And, in the first pass, I did some serious cutting. Besides moving “Act 3” and a few necessary bits of “Act 2” to the second book, I burned a whole unnecessary chapter, which allowed me to divide another chapter which was really two concatenated together. Which satisfied my intent for the unnecessary chapter better and more naturally.

Elsewhere I’ve cut a whole page (or two… or three…) where a tighter and better reading version of the text needed to grow.

Cutting is important, and I recommend cutting the dead wood out of any story. But you have to build out the parts that need expanding too. Make sure you have all the right pieces in place before you worry about finishing and polishing them.

As of now, my first “1 ½ pass” pass is done. And, believe me, I’m celebrating my success. I’ve improved my story. Now (actually… Monday), it’s back to the beginning for the second 1 ½ pass. This time the changes should be smaller. The parts cut will be smaller. Anything added will be smaller. It’s time to move from the rough work to a refining step.

Now that I really know where the ending is, and where the next book goes, I can make sure the beginning points to the right place, that my promises will be kept, and that the dreaded middle of the story will support the journey.

And then, once this pass is done, I can move to doing some polishing work (I hope). And then… It goes to the publisher (who will trigger another round of refining and polishing before the book goes to print and I can get on to developing book two).

Each book has its own quirks, challenges and rules. The rules for this book aren’t the rules from the last book. And they aren’t entirely the rules for the next book either. Our stories develop, and we grow and learn as writers. That means every project should have new challenges. And at every ending, it’s back to the beginning.

Good luck in your own writing dear reader. And I’ll see you next post.

A modelers tool for writing projects

As a kid I made plastic models. At first, before I knew better, I threw away the leftover bits and pieces. That was before I learned to keep a parts box…

One of the best lessons of my years making plastic tanks, jets, and other models was that serious modelers keep a parts box, a place where they store those leftover bits and pieces. Why? Because sometimes the extra bits are useful in making other models. If you have extra parts, you can customize kits and experiment with techniques cheaply and safely. Having and using a parts box gives you options and helps you develop your skills.

The lesson of my parts box paid off for me as a college student.  When you’re doing psychology research, you need to run statistics, and big stats packages like SPSS and SAS frequently require you to do a little coding to do the big heavy-duty analyses. Some of my fellow students dreaded those big analyses. Not me… I saved my code and re-used it. For a lot of the big analyses the code is fairly similar. So, I could copy a previous use of the same test, modify it, and have the new test ready much faster than if I had tried to code it from scratch.

Over on the fiction side of the house, the concept of the parts box is still helping me.

When we edit, we sometimes struggle with those bits of writing that we love, but know we need to cut. It can be hard because you don’t want to lose those little gems, even though they don’t fit the current story.

Well, with a parts box (in this case a folder on your hard drive/cloud/flash drive) you can save those bits. And, after you’ve saved them you can use them!

Are you looking for inspiration? Need a writing prompt? Climb around in your parts box of fiction pieces you already love (or at least find interesting). Odds are that there will be something in there that works for you.

Are you stuck on a scene? Maybe the solution is already in your parts box. It’s just like back in the old days with plastic models; if I’m stuck I can ask myself “Do I have one of these already?”, and then go look.

The concept dear reader, is to create a place to store those bits that are too good to throw away, but aren’t necessarily useful right now. If you’re in this business long term (and most of us who really write are) they will be helpful eventually, and they’re easy to store (and if you can figure out a good naming and organizing scheme, they can be fairly easy to find!).

I practice what I preach dear reader (or at least I try to…), and a writer’s parts box is helpful. In my first “one and a half pass” through the novel I’m working on I’ve found over a dozen ideas that I should really explore in short stories of their own. Putting them in the “box” means I don’t forget them and I can use them to both expand my world and fill those times where I’m really having trouble finding something to write (it happens…).

It’s not an absolute “have to”, but it’s an idea I encourage you to try. And, I think I’ll go crawl through mine to see if I can find a little help for this next chapter.

If you have questions or experiences with a writer’s “parts box” I’d love to discuss them with you. And… I’ll see you next post.

Blowing out and reading up…

When I’m not writing I’m occasionally known to do metal work. Among my favorite moments is the moment where I safely (yes, I hear some of my old teachers yelling) plunge a hot lost wax mold into water. It’s one of the most exciting, rewarding and sometimes gut-wrenching moments. It’s the moment you get to see your design realized in metal… Unless something went wrong. And then, you’re working at a lump of metal that was supposed to be your project but didn’t work out.

Once your metal comes out of the mold, even if your piece comes out well, you still have a lot of cleanup work to do. The sprue has to be cut. The scar from the cutting has to be filed down. The whole thing needs to be sanded. Pits may have to be filled.  And after all of that you still have polishing, and stone setting and inlay tasks that may be waiting.

There’s a point in the writing process that’s almost the same, and as I write this, I’m in the middle of it… If you’ve finished a first draft there comes a moment when you have to go back to the start and edit that first draft. Instead of discovering a successful casting we hope to find a good manuscript, but we still have a lot of cleanup to do.

The processes are similar.  True as writers we rarely attack the project with saws, files, scrapers and sand paper. We rarely worry about literal pitting and porosity. But we still have cleanup and fixing to do.

It’s just that we cut words instead of oxidation and roughness. We polish words rather than surfaces.

We still face parts that didn’t quite fill in the way we wanted. bits that don’t look as good as we thought they did when we started, and parts that will take more work than we thought they would.

It’s an exciting part of the process and, just like with metalwork, it’s a good idea to look over (read) the whole thing before jumping in and working on stuff. Some bits will need to be moved. Some parts will need to be reworked. If you’re like me, you may have a section that needs a different point of view (or was just plain in the wrong place).

Reading through and looking over can be depressing and hard… There’s so much to do! But by completing a read through we can make an actual plan that saves time, effort, and heartache in the long run. I’ve written about the “1 ½” pass editing technique before , and this represents the first ½ pass of the technique. it might seem like you’re not getting a lot done. But, by getting a look at the whole thing before you fiddle with parts you can cut out one or more whole editing passes because you have a better idea of what you need to do and why.

Those of us who “won” NANOWRIMO, and anyone else with a first draft manuscript in front of us have a lot of work to do, and a first read through will make the whole process a lot easier.

That’s it for this one dear reader. I’m on my way to finishing my read-through, and I suspect some of you probably need to get back to writing too (you know who you are…). So, I’ll see you next post.

POV and understanding

This week I finished the “1/2” portion of my 1 ½ pass editing pass for the Johnson Farm reedit and The Calm Inside the Storm. One of the biggest results is some serious thought about point of view.

Some scenes only get one point of view. Sometimes there’s only one character around to have a point of view. Sometimes only one character is trustworthy enough to give his/her point of view (and then unreliable narrators happen…), sometimes we’re trying to keep it simple and only use one POV throughout the work. But sometimes we can benefit from multiple points of view on a scene or situation, even if those points of view don’t all make it into the final work.

Multiple points of view can make for a complicated scene and a complicated story. But:

  • Sometimes multiple points of view are informative. The reader can learn more about the situation and the characters. If your hero describes the scene one way and the villain another, you can learn something about the story from the differences, the things not said and the things that conflict. As a writer, you can “show not tell” by allowing your reader to extrapolate from multiple accounts.
  • Sometimes one character might “have the angle” and can see something another character can’t. if this is true for only one character and the information is relevant, then you want that character’s point of view on the page. If it happens for two characters, you should consider ways to get both points of view onto the page.
  • Sometimes you learn something from writing from a different character’s point of view. I have a case of this in my current work. Both John and Jamie have accounts of a particular scene and those accounts will be in their respective stories. But, Jamie’s mom is also in the room and I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around decisions she’s making. Solution: rewrite the scene from the mother’s POV. It probably won’t make it into the book, but the finished scenes will be better because I know what the Q%$@#!!! is going on in mom’s head while the teens are being teens.
  • Sometimes those points of view that don’t make it into the main work can be used in other ways. I just mentioned rewriting a scene from Jamie’s mother’s perspective. How hard will it be to turn that scene into a promotional short story to help advertise the book? (I don’t know because I haven’t written it yet, but it’s a possibility)

Alternate points of view can be a resource sink. But, sometimes the reader and the author learn something worthwhile. Writing from multiple perspectives can help you and your readers understand things that would otherwise be missed or require a bunch of story-slowing exposition. Multiple perspective take more work (sometimes…), but if they make the story better, they’re worth considering.

These are my thoughts dear reader. What do you think? Are multiple points of view good? Bad? Over complicated? Enjoyable? Leave a comment if you’re so inclined, and… I’ll see you next post.

The 1 ½ pass pass rides again!

Well dear reader, this week I started on a dangerous task. I’m applying new techniques to old work. Recently I submitted my novel Unintended Consequences to a larger publisher. Part of my pitch was that Johnson Farm, my first novel, would be pulled, re-tuned, and updated. The idea is the entire double series will come out under one label.

Johnson farm was a first novel. It came out before I discovered the 1 ½ pass editing technique . It’s a little dated. And, I’ve learned a thing or two since I wrote it. Now, I’m re-editing and rewriting with new techniques and understanding. It will make the book better, but there are real challenges.

What challenges?

Well… I knew there would be updates for some real-world events and changes, and a few things that better tie in with Unintended Consequences and its sequel The Calm Inside the Storm.

I did not expect that I will be doing major rework on my ‘funeral’ chapter. I thought it was the most solid one in the book, and it was one of the first finished. But, I’m finding I may just have been afraid to cut into my ‘sacred cow’.

I definitely didn’t think I would rewrite the post log. When I did my initial work on Johnson Farm’s sequel Going Home the Hard Way I didn’t think the ending of Johnson Farm was a problem. I also didn’t know I would do a ‘side series’ that covered the time span in more detail.

I found those challenges reading the first 40 pages. Since then… I’m planning to split a major chapter and revise each half to better reflect themes in the book and create better tone for each piece. And, I still have the conjunction of Johnson Farm and The Calm Inside the Storm ahead of me (Monday will be fun! In a pass the caffeine and hide the sidearms kind of way…).

Next week I’ll start re-editing the old stuff while first editing the new stuff in parallel. This is where the 1 ½ pass technique will really help. It’s the point where things become really complicated.

Better techniques, better results

Johnson Farm existed before the 1 ½ pass technique entered my life. Editing the first edition would have been faster with the new technique (a lot faster…). Each pass would have taken longer, but I wouldn’t have had to do as many passes. I would have been able to work on big picture issues that crossed the whole book much sooner, because I would find them, think about them, and create better solutions all in one pass rather than taking two or three go-rounds to get them through my thick head. I could have skipped some intermediate steps that didn’t work because I could see the entire project better.

And the benefits keep rolling… Now that I will be editing the old, simple, one perspective most of the way story alongside a second text, the 1 ½ pass method helps because I need to do more meta thinking between the books and within each book. It’s hard to do that when you only work on one book at a time.

The coordination between books will make editing better and faster. It also boosts my confidence for the next step… When I resume work on Going Home the Hard Way while I’m doing the initial writing of the final book of the Unintended Consequences trilogy.

Learning new things, developing new techniques, helps us to do more, create better products, and do things we couldn’t have done before. It can be scary to open old wounds . But, sometimes coming back with new techniques helps us turn mediocre old stuff into something great.

Editing takes work and patience. Good writing takes effort and learning (not just knowledge but learning…)

It’s difficult dear reader. But, I’m doing it. And, so can you!

That’s it for this one. Good luck in your writing, and… I’ll see you next post.

First drafts, and the mountains to follow…

Well dear reader, Unintended Consequences has been submitted. It’s in the hands of editors other than me…

In the beginning, writing a whole book, a whole 50-60 thousand word or more novel or even a shorter “how to” book, feels daunting. But, once you get the first draft done you realize (at least if you’re creating a readable book you realize) there’s an even bigger mountain beyond. It’s called editing.

Then, somewhere up the side of Mount Edit, we realize there are two more mountains to cross, submission and marketing.

Mount Submission is one of those that doesn’t seem scary until you get up close and realize that first timers don’t know the paths yet. So, first timers do a lot more free-climbing than hiking. And then, you find out you have to climb down the mountain and climb back up Mount Edit from the other side, because you left your gear up on the summit.

And, while you’re climbing Mt Edit for the second time, you also need to be climbing Mt Marketing (while the guy’s on top of Mt Submission lecture you on the reality that you should have started up Mt Marketing much sooner).

If Mt Submission surprises first timers, Mt Marketing should terrify them. It’s not insurmountable, but Mt Marketing requires your whole writer skill set plus another, the marketing skill set. And, the guys on Mt Submission, the ones ‘everybody’ thinks will tackle Mt Marketing for you, usually aren’t as much help as you wanted them to be.

The mountain is climbable, but (Gasp!) you’re going to have to do, or pay for, a lot of the work yourself (and if you didn’t know that before you got to Mt Submission, you’re already behind the eight-ball).

Yes dear reader, at the very beginning, that first draft looks like a high and scary mountain. But, it’s just the foothill.

But, the good news is: with a little work, study, and maybe a little help, you can do it.

The next question is: if it’s so much work, why do we do it?

There are lots of answers to that and we’ve talked about some of them before {link} I think there are at least as many reasons as there are writers. Among them: we get to tell a new story. We get to be the first audience for a new story, shape it to perfection, and then share it with the world. We might just make some money for our efforts (if we’re good, smart, and lucky). Mostly (I think) those of us who succeed do it because we love it; because we feel a compulsion to do it; because we can’t imagine ourselves doing anything else.

The good news is, if you’re willing to do the work, you can do it.

Unintended Consequences is at the publisher right now. My team is getting ready for that second climb up Mt Edit, and the climb up Mt Marketing is happening. It can be done. I know because I’m doing it.

And you can do it too.

Well dear reader, if you’re a writer, keep writing (and editing) and, I’ll see you next post.

Use your tools…

There comes a time when the big things are done: you’ve figured out your audience; you’ve finally got your voice down; your themes, concepts, and symbols are there; your plot is running; and your characters are who they need to be. But, sadly, the big things being done doesn’t mean everything is done.

This is the point where editing becomes a bug hunt. You’re triple checking continuity. You’re checking punctuation. You’re fixing wrong word and spelling errors. You’re straightening out formatting problems. Unless you are a very special person this part of the editing process isn’t a lot of fun.

But, you can make it better if you use your tools

Formatting follies…

My wife is a full-time employee and affiliate faculty at our local university. I go there to do research. Between us we hear many people (students and faculty) whining about nitpicky problems with formatting.

Yes, weird stuff happens. But, you can cut a lot of your formatting headaches out of the bug hunt if you do your work up front.

Think then write…

Think and plan what you’re working on from the start. This helps you have the formatting in place from day one. There is less to do at the end if you’ve been doing it all along.

Learn, use, and love styles…

A certain professor who shall remain nameless constantly protest that styles are a plot by Microsoft to control our writing. To be honest, I’m not sure if it is laziness or just paranoia. Styles existed before we had any word processing or desk top publishing software.

Most desktop packages have styles options. Most good ones allow you to edit styles and create your own. Even if you’re not ready to create your own styles, just using and changing existing styles helps you a lot.

Using styles helps keep all those formatting bits under control and allows you to change the easily when needed. I can change the body text of my entire 73,000+ word novel from Calibri to Times New Roman, or even Wingdings with a couple of mouse clicks using styles.

Without styles… Now we’re having headaches.

Styles allow you to have your formatting under control without having to do lots of little fiddly stuff on every page.

Choosing and/or creating styles at the beginning allows your manuscript to be formatted right from the get go, even if you want to do something obscure.

Using styles simplifies the bug hunt. But, we can do even more…

Editing add-ons…

A while ago I wrote about Pro Writing Aid and Grammarly. Choose the one you like, or some other that works better for you, and use it. The sad truth is we can easily go blind to punctuation, spelling, and grammar issues in our work. These packages can help us find these problems (but like I said don’t let them do all the work…)

You might even consider volunteer or paid copy editing help. A good editor is better than the software, and can really help. Software doesn’t understand intent. Editors just might. Editors can hash through things with you in ways the software can’t.

You might get away with eyeballing an email or text. But, maybe not… For a book… Do yourself a favor and get some help (and if your help finds nothing wrong, maybe you have a career as a copy editor…)

Summing its up…

The bug hunt is necessary dear reader. Even the best story becomes hard to read if it’s full of errors. A story without copy editing is kind of like showing up to a wedding in your underwear… You might get away with it in some limited circumstances, but most of the time you’re opening yourself up to ridicule and denial.

Using your tools helps make your bug hunt easier.

Do your editing dear reader. I know your pain (I’m working on mine…). And, I’ll see you next post.

The middle of the pass… And facing the hard stuff…

Two weeks ago I talked about the “one and a half pass” editing pass. And, 345 manuscript pages (73,500 words) later I’ve dug through the reader feedback, made my notes, and found three things that need more than a one word fix or altered point of punctuation.

Two of the three are relatively easy. I need to move a little character description earlier in the story. There’s work involved, but it could be worse. The first fits in with my heroine’s natural way of going and the second is easily dropped into my ‘rather particular’ (aka anal) antagonist’s running commentary about the people around him.

As I think about it, it’s kind of weird I missed them in the first place… But that’s part of the challenge of writing fiction. You have to get the story in your head onto the page in a complete form that the readers will want to read. It takes practice and training, but if you’re willing to do the work, you can get there (And if you think you’re there… Check anyway).

The last change is big. It’s the hardest change to make. It means the most work. But, it will pay off in the long run.

Part of the stress on my heroine comes from two videos that show up in the middle of the story. Initially, I thought the same character shot and posted both. But, the videos need to be on two different accounts, and have different styles and kinds of content. It feels like more than the original perpetrator would do. Generally, things don’t feel right.

The videos are important. They help put pressure on the heroine and drive her toward making a mistake. They need to be there. But, the way they were initially conceived didn’t work. So, I borrowed some teens I know and had a talk about embarrassing videos. And yeah… I’m making some changes.

And, the changes are more than just inserting a different name. Two different characters are putting up the videos now. One of those characters is the original. His video was put up on a false account and the two characters didn’t get along well in the first place (and the account hasn’t been tied to him yet). So there’s not much change to be done.

But, the other video is now being put up by a female character that the heroine knows. It will change some interactions between those characters, which means I have to work through all the references to that video, all the interactions with that character, and stuff relating to that character and rework things to fit her being the video poster.

It’s a lot of work. But, it focuses and increases the pressure I wanted on my heroine. It gives my antagonist something to be mad about (in his mind he’s protecting the heroine). And it fits. It’s a lot of work; it means digging through, thinking, and reworking, but makes the story better. Making the story better matters.

I’ve already put in a lot of work. This is supposed to be the last go ground. And, I’m lucky; there’s only one significant change, and it’s a fairly manageable one.

Taking your story apart and reworking pieces can be a pain in the butt. It’s not something we like to do. But, if you want the story to work, sometimes you have to rework a piece or two. And, that work extends beyond just rewriting a sentence or two. It can mean making changes across the length and breadth of the story.

It’s not something you have to do; it’s something you have to do if you want the story to be right. It’s something we all need to do from time to time (Ask Steven King if you don’t believe me…). It’s rewarding. It makes your story right; it helps your readers love your work; it matters.

Telling a good story should be a goal for any fiction writer. And revision is part of that. It is worth the effort.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Do your revisions. Make your stories great. And, I’ll see you next post.

The “one and a half pass” editing pass

The day this post goes live I’m collecting the last of my reader feedback for Unintended Consequences. That means Monday, June 3, 2019, I am starting what will, hopefully, be my last pass on the book before the whole thing gets submitted to the ‘big’ editors for publication. It’s time to give the whole manuscript one big once-over using everything I’ve learned, just to make sure it’s ready.

I’ve said it before, one of the best things you can do to develop as a writer is to read about writing.  A while back I read Steven King’s On Writing and learned something important….

One of the most helpful (to me at least!) things in that book is the simple statement that when Steven edits, he makes notes on themes. When I read that. I realized I should do the same thing. It would help in longitudinal (through story) editing. I tried it, and my system’s grown from there.

This new and evolving system has really helped me pull the book together. Since I’ve developed the “one and a half pass” editing pass I honestly get more done each time I go through a manuscript.

Why a “one and a half pass” pass.

Well, that’s because the first pass isn’t really a complete pass. The first time through, I might fix little things: typos, little bits of formatting, etc. But I’m spending a lot more time marking the bigger stuff I need to work on and making notes. What this does for me is it helps focus on the themes important to the book (and the ones that need to be edited out). It also helps identify problems in continuity within the book (and between books if you’re doing a series…) and gives me time to think about those big fixes and insight about how to resolve them in the context of the whole book.

So, the “first” pass isn’t really a complete edit. It’s a list of what I need to work on in the edit. The second pass begins armed with the notes I’ve made and helps me fix the things that need to be fixed, drop the things that need to go away, and focus on the story as a whole.

That “second” pass is really a complete editing pass, but I couldn’t do it without the first ‘partial’ pass.

Why not just make notes and edit everything in one pass? Because, that results in lots of little mucking about with things that will change again (possibly back to the way they were in the first place!). The point of the first “half” pass is to find the stuff that needs attention in the big picture of the story. If I’m giving up a bunch of time just focusing on the section I’m in, I miss some big stuff.

When I come back on that second pass I can fix the stuff I need to with an improved understanding of how it meshes with the rest of the work.

Is it really that simple?

Umm… We’re talking about a manuscript over 50,000 words long (73,571 words for this specific manuscript at this specific point…) simple isn’t the first word I would use to describe any effective editing process for a document of that size.

The idea is really that simple: make notes about themes and the editing to be done, then go back and do the rest of the work. But, the practice can (and does) become more complex.

There are tools to be assembled. There is a mindset to be developed (and possibly habits to be broken). You have to figure out how to adapt the process to the way you work, and the manuscript you’re working on.


Well, we’re talking about making notes. So, you need a way to make notes. That could be the comment feature in Microsoft Word. It could be a feature in Scrivener. It could be a separate document on your computer. Or, it could be an actual, physical notebook. Myself, I go with the actual notebook because sometimes I like to work and think away from my computer.

You also need tools and a system for marking within a text. Again, this could be a software solution or physical tools, but you need a way of working that makes sense to you (and any co-authors and editors working with you).

I use a ‘dead tree’ edition of the manuscript and a collection of colored pens (yep, the weird colored ones you can’t use on official, legal documents). The colors help me recognize at a glance what the notes I’ve made refer to. Usually my color system goes something like this:

  • Blue: actual edits to the text (fixing typos and immediate edits). It’s old school classical editor stuff (though in the old days it would be a blue pencil…)
  • Black: notes on themes and general notes on stuff to be worked on in the second pass (this color gets used more in the notebook than in the manuscript)
  • Purple: Voice issues. Honestly, if I feel like there’s a problem with the voice in a section, I put a big purple circle around it. That way when I come back later I can figure out the right way to do the voice in view of the whole story.
  • Red: Continuity stuff. Red ink helps me make note of things that differ or shift between one section and another. Before I developed this technique, there were times the calendar and time of day started to feel more like suggestions than facts. And, that’s saying nothing of who did what to whom issues…
  • Green and other colors: I add other colors when necessary to reflect issues and needs within a specific project. For instance, in Unintended Consequences there are several points where texts and online chats are used for character communication. I used green to mark things that should have been in my text/online style but weren’t.

The tools I use (and the ones you develop for yourself) should make that “second” pass easier and more effective. When you get it right, a “one and a half pass” pass can easily get more done than three or four passes doing the “just focus on this chapter” method.

Summing up…

It’s really about productivity and improving your story (both interesting and readable/salable). Yes, the “one and a half pass” pass takes more work than a “single” pass. But, because you can look at the whole work with the help of your editing notes, you can get a lot more done in a pass than you could otherwise.

Nobody said this stuff was easy. The truth is writing takes work.

This method is a way I’ve found to make that work easier and more efficient.

And today I’m sharing it with you dear reader. Use it if you will. Adapt it to your own needs and process. And, I’ll see you next post.

(As usual, if you have something to say, leave a comment. Thanks)