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Q & A: Common Editing Questions Answered!

This month on Writing It Wells we've been focused on bringing you resources to help guide you through the editing process. From learning how to edit, to the four different types, how to find a professional, to hiring one we've got you covered! Visit our Editing Series Menu to view all the posts in this series.

Today we're keeping things laid-back with a Q & A session. We've been seeing a lot of questions floating around online about editing and want to take a moment to bring you some answers.

Q: How can you stay motivated while editing?

A: I think its safe to say that for the majority of writers, writing the story is much more fun than the editing that comes after. This is especially true when there are multiple rewrites involved and lots of errors in need of fixing. The process can be long, frustrating, and tedious. It may lead to procrastination or avoidance altogether, which can ultimately lead to things like delayed deadlines and writer's block.

Solution: Organization is the key. The more focused and clear your edits are, the more you'll be able to complete them. Try sitting down and listing all the issues you feel your draft has off the top of your head chapter by chapter. Listen to the nagging voice telling you what needs fixing and jot down any blatant errors. Even if you're unsure about a section but can't identify in the moment what's wrong, write it down. Once you have these down on paper it's much easier to start brainstorming solutions one-by-one. By keeping a track-able list the task begins to feel less daunting. You can take it one step at a time and clearly see how much you've accomplished along the way.

Q: Should you edit as you go along or wait until the end?

A: You have to find what works best for you personally. Every writer has their own process and preferences, as there's no right or wrong way to go about writing and editing. Some writers prefer to clean their manuscript as they go along. Others pants their way through the whole thing and then spend their days fixing things afterwards. It all depends on what type of writer you are.

Solution: My process is to tweak things as I go. It looks like this:

  • At the beginning of each writing session, I reread the chapter I'm currently writing. I try not to go back further than that unless its for a quick reference. This keeps me from getting bored with my work, but allows me to pick up where I left off and relearn where I'm going.

  • As I scan through it I stop to polish and tweak whatever immediately jumps out. Grammar and spelling errors, setting/time/seasonal details, etc. I may update a line of dialogue or compare a character's description to the profile I created in the beginning to make sure it matches.

By doing quick things like this as you go, it saves time later during editing. As a writer navigating through a story with three, sometimes four, different perspectives this can sometimes be the only thing keeping me from losing track of my details.

Q: Should you stop halfway through a messy first draft to edit?

A: This is another crossroads question. There's technically no reason why you can't stop when you feel like it to edit, especially when you already know something major needs to change. I think it depends largely on what your bottom line is.

Solution: Personally, if I knew ahead of time that something was going to change or need to be addressed or that I wanted to take the story in a different direction I would go back and fix things before continuing. The reason being that it would save some time and drafting later. Unfortunately a lot of my ideas change as I go, so I typically end up writing multiple drafts anyways. I'm not afraid to start tearing things up as I go knowing I'll be polishing later. I think the only way to avoid doing this is to put a lot of time and effort into exploring your outline and then sticking rigidly to it once you begin.

Keep in mind that doing this right in the middle of your story can stunt your writing growth overall, particularly if you're in the thick of your plot. At this point it may be better to complete the draft and then make the changes you want to make in the next one.

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Q: How do you know if you should cut a scene?

A: This is a tricky one. As writers we intuitively know what needs to be a part of a scene and what doesn't, but sometimes we ignore that "gut" feeling because we're still developing our stories. The problem is we don't necessarily see that we're using background or filler information rather than events that are relevant to move our plot further.

Solution: Here's where discipline and our "editing eyes" are essential. Chances are if you're asking this question, it means the scene needs to go. To what degree depends on the story and what's happening. It may be that a piece of what you have is needed or perhaps its in the wrong order or place. It could also mean that it needs to be rewritten.

If you're not getting a definitive feeling either way, it's most likely because you're not looking at things with your "editing eyes". Ask yourself what relevance this particular scene has to the plot. If it doesn't further it in a direct way (meaning that it doesn't influence a character's decision, have them reacting to an event that has just occurred, or doesn't prompt them to act) then it's safe to say its just background fluff. Some of this fluff is necessary, but not a whole scene. For example, background information about your main character's family. If those family members don't appear in the book at all, best to keep things brief and not devote an entire scene to going over lineage. Another thing to consider are dream sequences and flashbacks. These have to have a purpose in order to be kept in the final draft.

Q: Are you rewriting your story too much?

A: To determine the answer to this question, you have to ask yourself why you're rewriting. It's not a mistake to write more than one draft, in fact it often is necessary to make your book even better. However there's a fine line between redrafting for a purpose and rewriting to procrastinate. Self-doubt can play a role in this. If you're a perfectionist or feel insecure/nervous about sharing your work it's easy to fall into the habit of always "tweaking" things. It can also be a symptom of not truly knowing the story we want to tell. Both of these reasons aren't beneficial, but how can we change them so we can finally move forward?

Solution: You have to ask yourself why you're changing it. If the answers you come up with are legitimate weakness in your story, then chances are it's necessary to rewrite. But if you can't come up with a reason beyond the fact that you're unhappy with it, then its safe to say there's another root cause here. Take a deep breath and look at the facts objectively. Stories are meant to be shared with the world, right? Meaning that if you write them, then they need to be read. That's the whole point of writing them in the first place. The best way to overcome writing doubts is to take the plunge. Have a trusted friend read your work and give you some feedback. Join a writing community like the one on Instagram. Enter that poetry or short story contest you've been thinking about. However you do it, starting small will give you the chance to build up your confidence before you start the publishing journey.

Q: What are beta readers and how do you use them?

A: Beta readers are awesome! These are the other writers, bookworms, and friends who can provide objective perspectives and critiques of your work. They're free, honest opinions about your story and integral to the editing process. Typically you would reach out to whoever you would like to review your work a decide whether you're sending a few chapters or the whole thing over. You also want to come up with some guidelines or specific questions you want them to keep in mind while they read, things like pacing, setting, consistency, what they thought of characters, etc. You can personalize these questions to fit your needs.

To learn more about beta readers and how to find them, see our How To Find A Beta Reader and How They Can Strengthen Your Book post.

Q: Should you accept all of your editor's suggestions?

A: You should never accept advice if you feel it blatantly goes against your vision for your story. This is why taking the time to properly screen and choose your editors is so important. You want the person you choose to be on board one-hundred-percent with your work and style. Obviously if you're debating grammar errors, you should let it go. Your editor definitely knows what they're talking about (at least more than you do), but if you receive some advice that makes you cringe when you think about it, don't make the change right away. Sleep on it and give it some real thought. If you wake up the next morning, look at it again, and think they may have a point, then make the switch. If not stand your ground.

Solution: Another way to handle this situation is to use the "Heard It Twice" rule. If you receive the same feedback two times or more, its time to put your feelings aside and accept that perhaps what your editor, critique partner, and beta readers are all telling you. In the end its important to remember that they're on your side and want to see your work become stronger, not to hurt your feelings.

Q: How long should the editing process take?

A: It's all about quality over quantity. When you write a book with your name attached to it, it's more important to take your time and produce the best work possible rather than pumping out a wide range of mediocre material. This means- you guessed it- an in-depth editing process. Typically you go through several rounds of editing, all predetermined by what your book needs. Some books take longer than others to edit. Where one may take two years, another could take five. It also depends on how fast you write your material, and rewrite it, as the case may be. Either way the process of writing is a long-haul one so if you're the impatient type you may be in the wrong business.

Q: What types of editing are there?

A: There are four types: developmental, copy, line, and proofreading. To read about these in detail, see our post 4 Types of Editing You Need To Know.

Q: How do I know what type of editing I need?

A: The easiest way to find this out is to talk to an editor! Editors often allow a free quote or consultation where they can provide you with advice on whether or not to move forward with them, what kind of editing they think your work needs, etc. All you have to do is ask.

Q: How much do editors cost? How do I hire one?

A: Pricing for editing varies. It's determined by the length of your work, the type of editing needed, how much time it'll take to do it, how experienced the editor is (more experience means more expensive to hire), and how quickly you need your project finished.

When it comes to editing, give yourself plenty of time to compare pricing and services. Don't let higher prices scare you off- you get what you pay for. For an easy transition from writing to hiring an editor, check out The Ultimate Guide To Hiring A Book Editor. We've taken the hassle out of compiling different pricing, comparing editors, and finding out the difference between individual editors and editing services to help you make the decision that's right for you.

Q: Do I really need an editor?

A: Absolutely! Don't make the mistake of thinking you're a flawless writer. No one, no matter their skill or experience level, is perfect. In an industry that's all about making the best first impression, you're going to want to spend the time and money it takes to make your book the best it can possibly be. Whether that's self-editing, hiring, or a combination of the two, it's always a good idea.

When you're starting to think about editing, it can be a little daunting. There are a lot of choices and many types. With some time and effort, however, it will all be worth it. Having your book edited is a must!

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