Thursday, 22 November 2012


Happy Thursday, my delightful readers. Yesterday I emerged (stumbling and moaning like a scarecrow zombie) from the pages of my pre-submission edit of The Name of the Blade: Book Two, and popped onto Twitter to ask a question.

What blog did people want to see today? Would they like me to review and analyse the new City of Bones film trailer, scene by scene? Or would they prefer to hear about my editing process, even though it was kind of boring and nothing special?

(Obviously I asked using a lot less characters than this, but you get the idea).

The overwhelming consensus was: Talk about edits, please. Which is a relief in one way, because we all know that I get just a tad squeeful when discussing The Mortal Instruments books or films and it's a little embarrassing. Also, I've seen a lot of posts about the trailer already and despite my huuuuge exitement I realise that other people might feel they're talked out on the topic.

On the other hand, I was disappointed because... well, my editing process really is pretty boring and nothing special. My process when it comes to writing my books evolves all the time, and I come up with all kinds of whacky methods that I can show you using diagrams or photos of my notebook or whatever. But ever since the very first time that I finished a manuscript (when I was sixteen and writing a romance novel for Mills & Boon, *shudder*) my editing process hasn't changed at all, except that nowadays since I don't have to go to the office I can take a bit more time over it.

But people did seem interested. So here it is, for what it's worth. And remember - I'm not saying this is The One True Way or that anyone who does things in a completely different fashion is wrong. It's just what *I* do. Okay? Okay.

STAGE ONE: Print that baby out.

The moment I type the words 'The End', I connect my printer up, shove the paper in, and get the whole manuscript churned out. While this is happening I normally eat some chocolate or drink a glass of something mildly alcoholic and fizzy. I ALWAYS listen to either Katy Perry or Taylor Swift and sing along, often while chair dancing in my wobbly Writing Cave chair. You can probably skip that last part if you want.

When the manuscript is all printed I put it straight into a folder or a plastic document box and then I put that box away somewhere safe. I don't look at it. I just shuffle the pages and hide them.

I'm not sure why this stage is so important to me. I think it's because if I've printed it out then I am committed to editing THIS version of the story, and will not be tempted to try to sneak back into the Word Doc. and start meddling. Plus, it's just really nice to see the whole thing looking all neat and official like that.

Optional Extra: Sometimes - if I remember - before printing I will change the font, spacing and size of the script. This means that when it's printed out it looks completely different to the book that I've seen on my computer screen and worked on for months. Some people swear by this. I'm not sure if it helps or not since I haven't noticed that much difference when I forget. However, if your manuscript was formatted for submission, double spaced and with wide margins, taking a moment to change that can save you a lot of paper. You're welcome!

STAGE TWO: Diving into Other Stuff

Once the manuscript is printed and hidden away, I take a holiday from writing for AT LEAST two weeks. Three if I can manage it. Instead, I do something that I very rarely allow myself to do when I am working on a book of my own (for fear of getting distracted) and dive straight into reading. I hoover up my TBR pile. I go on book-buying binges. I re-read all my old favourites. I read anything and everything I can get my hands on.

And I don't just read. I watch everything that's on TV. I devour TV boxsets. I go to see films. I have day-long movie marathons. I finally listen to all that music I downloaded. I stuff myself with every other form of entertainment, narrative, and storytelling that I can. After practically starving myself during the writing process it feels like going from a desert island to an all you can eat buffet and it is glorious.

Well, kind of. The truth is that after Finale Euphoria (which lasts about an hour) and Finishing Depression (that's what the chocolate and Katy Perry are for) I tend to feel really weird and aimless and BORED. Despite having all the time in the world suddenly, and loads of things to read or undertake to occupy myself, I normally can't make myself DO much. I have the attention span of a goldfish. I wander about, potter, and quietly go a bit nuts. Switching from the Writer On Mode in which about 90% of my brain is always running my story at the back of my head like a film reel no matter what else I am doing, to Writer Off Mode when I need to fill all that space in my brain with something else is tough.

However, after a week or so I get into the swing of things and really start to love being able to finish a book in one sitting, or a whole book series in a couple of days. I get to like lying around instead of sitting in my office chair. I get to like being able to say 'yes' when family or friends ask me if I'm free.

Sometimes it's a bit hard, at the end of the two or three weeks, to get myself to snap back into Writer On Mode. But I usually manage it. So far, anyway.

Optional Extra: This is pretty vital for me, actually, but not everyone feels the way I do about notebooks. Basically, although I'm on holiday from writing, I still carry my notebook around with me everywhere, and a selection of pens. Any random thoughts that come to me about the revision - new scenes I should add, changes I should make, characters I should focus on - while I'm in the pictures or eating dinner in a restaurant or in the bath, go in the notebook, and that way I can refer to them later on and not get worried that I will forget, or be tempted to open that Word Doc.


At the end of my writing holiday/media buffet I get the printout of the manuscript from its hiding place, raid my stock of red pens and start marking up.

What this means, for me, is that I do a close and careful (but not too slow - I don't want to get bogged down) read through of the print out and I mark everything that strikes me. Everything.

I know some writers do one read-through for big picture issues (problems with pacing or character etc.) and then another read through for line issues (confusing descriptions, boring dialogue etc.) and then another one to proofread (spelling, grammar, typos, word repetition etc.). I wish I could do that. Possibly because I have quite a sharp memory for written text, every read that I do decreases my ability to see the story objectively. By that third read I wouldn't notice even a real stinker of a typo. I'd just see what I thought should be there and move on. So I have to mark everything at once - anything I notice, from a misplaced comma to a character arc that needs completely re-writing gets marked down.

Normally marking the manuscript up this way takes me several days, up to a week. That's because I'm not just marking where I see problems such as, say, bad pacing or someone acting out of character. I write down in the margins or, if I run out of room, on the back of the page, exactly what I think I need to do to fix things. I use the basic copy-editing marks I've sketchily learned to indicate where I'm moving paragraphs around. Sometimes I write whole new scenes on loose bits of notepaper and stick those in where they should go. By the time I finish marking up I have a complete roadmap of every change that needs to be made to the Word Doc.

Optional Extra: If you've been keeping a list of revision ideas in your notebook, you'll want it handy for this. The worst thing ever is to get to the end of the marking up and then realise there's something major you intended to do, and which will require all kinds of small threading in and blending changes throughout the story, WHICH YOU TOTALLY FORGOT BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T LOOK AT THE NOTEBOOK. 

STAGE FOUR: Hacking up

I call this stage hacking up (or ripping up sometimes) because this is when the cut, paste and most important of all DELETE buttons come into play.

When the manuscript is covered in red ink from the first page to the last, I open up my Word Doc. again. I take the marked up paper ms out of the folder a section at a time and put manageable chunks onto a clipboard, prop that up next to my laptop, and start putting all the changes that I've marked on the paper ms into place in the digital version.

While I'm inputting those changes, I also re-read the book for the last time before I send if off to my editor and agent, hoping to catch anything (big or small) that I might have missed when I was marking up the paper version. Sometimes reading it again this way means that when I get to a change I've marked on the paper, I disagree with my past self and change the solution I'd written out before. Most of the time the changes still work though.

When I get to the end of this stage? I'm done. The manuscript is as good as I can make it at that point, and it's time to send it off to some people who are a lot cleverer than I am so they can tell me what they think.

And that's it!

Some Things To Note: Although I've called this 'my editing process' like the editing all takes place here in one solid lump, really it's only the end of a much longer editing process. My first draft is actually written longhand in my notebook. I re-write and revise this draft, sometimes quite radically, when I type it up. Each day before I start writing in my notebook I look at what I've typed up the day before and revise it again. So by the time I've finished the manuscript and come to start marking up, I'm actually on my third revision. And that's if everything has gone smoothly and to plan - sometimes I go off track and end up going back and doing other revisions because I don't feel I can move forward until I know I've fixed issues in the draft.

So what I'm saying here, is... I'm kind of a self-editing monster. But that's what works for me.

Cherry pick anything useful from this that you can, Dear Readers :)


Unknown said...

I really like your editing processes! Especially printing it out and marking actual physical paper. Makes a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing.

Zoë Marriott said...

Antonia: You're very welcome :)

Jo said...

Thanks for posting this. And I'm glad you also write by hand and then edit in the type up as I do the same and now feel a bit more normal.

Zoë Marriott said...

Jo: I'm not sure that there is such a thing as normal, really. Whatever works is fine, basically :)

Rachel Balcombe said...

Thanks for this post. I've never really been very good at editing - I've been hiding from one of my novels for a year because there's so much to do! and I really feel after reading this that it's doable. :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Rachel: Wooohooo! Day = made. Go get that novel out and EDIT THE CRAP OUT OF IT.

Unknown said...

Since your drafting process is the same as mine, I think I'll give your editing process a go too! I'm two chapters away from hitting print and already have a notebook full of things that need changing. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed about the whole thing, so thanks for this.

Zoë Marriott said...

CB: Oh, I do that too! I normally write the actual book in the front of the notebook and keep track of revisions I think I'll need to do in the back. More often than not they end up meeting in the middle...

Unknown said...

I really like your editing processes! Especially printing it out and marking actual physical paper. Makes a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing. pay for essay

Barker and Jones Staff said...

I'll have to try this next time I'm editing! (Although I only write for fun, not to submit.)

I read advice from another author, I can't quite remember who, who always prints out her draft, deletes the word doc, and types it back in from the draft. She finds that having to pay that much attention to it helps her pick up problems and mistakes more easily. That's uite like yours, you're obviously both onto something! :D

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