May 15, 2013

Writing Club Wednesday: The Edit Letter in 8 Easy Steps

Let’s talk about edit letters. 

Most of us have had them. Whether they’re letters from your editor, revisions for your agent, or crits from a CP, criticism is part of being a writer, and an even more important part is knowing what to do with that criticism. 

I’m currently working through my first round of edits with my editor, and have had plenty agent and CP edits, and I think I’ve finally (finally!) got a system down. 

STEP 1. See email arrive in inbox. Realize it's not from Groupon, or Priceline, or Crate and Barrel, but actually from the person who was just reading your book. Faint a little, then read through all the notes way too fast to actually absorb any of it. 

STEP 2. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, take a deep breath, go somewhere quiet, and really read the notes. Jot down anything that really jumps out at you, or any ideas you have (do this all throughout the process!) but for the most part, just get a general idea of what your reader is saying.

STEP 3. Put it away for a bit. Seriously. Could be a day, could be a week, could be an hour. Just let your subconscious mind play with what you’ve read for a little bit. 

***I promise, these steps have a point. Your mind is already working on all the problems, and what's more, by doing it this way, you get to gauge your own reactions, because knowing which suggestions you're going to take to heart and which you aren't is an important part of this process. 

So during Steps 2 and 3, make sure you have a good idea of your own vision. Evaluate what resonates with you and what doesn’t, and think about why (especially for the comments you automatically want to dismiss!). If you feel defensive about a comment (What! I'm never taking out my fire-breathing unicorn army!), or if you find yourself thinking any variation of, "She just doesn't understand that character, or she wouldn't be telling me to change this!" really dig deep and think about what that means, especially if it's a comment you've heard more than once. Could the thing you're defensive about be a darling that needs to be killed/changed? Sorry, but it happens. And if you ever feel like readers don't understand something in your book...well, that's a red flag, too. What can you change to help them understand? 

STEP 4. Get out a notebook and pen, and get down to the real work. Read through the notes again, but this time, jot down everything you think is important. At this stage, I start separating out themes. For instance, if you see quite a few notes that center around your MC’s relationship with her mom, maybe group them together. Write down whichever of your reader’s notes resonate with you, and any ideas you have off the top of your head to fix them.

STEP 5. Organize. I like to make a checklist, grouped by the themes I’ve found in step 4. I try to get specific. For me, this might look something like:

*Mom Relationship
     -Show strained relationship in chapter 2
     -Flashback to XYZ incident later
     -Add more thoughts about mom in second half of book
*Character A
     -Add interaction earlier
     -MC thinks about Character A and the iced mocha incident at Place Z
*Reveal B
     -Move up info Q to the Coffeehouse Scene
     -Sprinkle more clues through first half of book

As you can see, some of my notes are more specific than others. If I have ideas on how to fix things right away, I write them down. If I just know I need to change something, I write that down so I’ll remember to come back to it.

STEP 6. Figure out all the “remember to come back to it” stuff from Step 5, and write it down. Essentially, make sure I have a complete revision outline. (Example: Under Add more thoughts about mom, actually think about and write down what the thoughts are, and where exactly to add them.) For a relative pantser like me, this feels like a whole lotta planning, but I find when doing big revisions, it’s easier to know exactly what you’re doing before you start writing. If it conflicts with something else, it’s easier to change at this point than once you’ve already written it all

STEP 7. Write it in! Easy-peasy, right? (hahahahahaha) Okay, this step can take a while, but trust me. If you've done steps 1-6, it's going to be much, much easier than if you'd just gone into it blind. (And, if you’re like me, you get an incredibly inflated sense of accomplishment when you can put a checkmark beside each outline item!)

STEP 8. Read the book. Make sure everything fits together, and that you’ve accomplished all the goals set out in your outline and that your book still matches your vision. 

And congratulations! You’re ready to send it off to CPs, or your agent, or your editor, and…start the whole process over again?! Wait a minute. What have I signed up for here? I think I’ve been tricked…

So, this is the system that seems to work for me, but your mileage may vary. What’s your editing process? Do you do anything really differently? I'd love to hear!

(Yes, this is the super abbreviated version. Each of these steps could be a post all its own. But it's a start!)

(Also, yes, the picture up there is my desk during edits. Don't judge my mess too much, okay?)


callmebecks said...

Great post, Maggie! I'm especially a big fan of steps 2-3 - it is so, SO important in my opinion to quietly read through everything and then let it simmer for awhile. I never respond to crit notes right away because my immediate reaction would always be, "WHAT DO YOU MEAN SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE? IT WAS PERFECT ALREADY!"

AngiNicole said...

Great post. My steps are similar. And your desk is soooo not a mess. I usually go through and look at all the comments and rate them (1-3) on whether, I strongly agree, eh, or GTFO. It helps me catalog later. :)

Seabrooke / Saybe said...

I am still in love with your desk and windows and light and view. What an amazing place to work. I'm sad you'll be leaving it.

Great summary of revision steps. :) It's such a daunting task that breaking it down like that into steps makes it feel more manageable. I basically do the same thing as far as Steps 1-5, but I combine step 6 and 7. I start reading at the beginning, with my list of notes beside me, and whenever I see a spot to address something I make the change/insertion. Often the solution to my revision points pops up by itself in a way I wouldn't've thought of if I was still trying to think of solutions while outside the story, because I'd forgotten about a certain scene, or I spot a small gesture a character makes somewhere that would be perfect for the solution, or whatever. Especially if it's been a while since the last time I read the book.

Maggie Hall said...

Becca--Yes! Me, too. I think the let-it-sit time is SO important. I even find that my mind solves problems itself during those times, occasionally!

Angi--ha! I love the 1-3 scale. I've never thought of something like that before!

Seabrooke--Aww, thanks! The windows are really nice. :) And that's a really good point about seeing solutions in the text. I guess I kind of do that in Step 7--sometimes I'll think of something that fits better, etc. But yeah, essentially the same method!

Sarah Guillory said...

Great post! I did lots of highlighting, sticky notes, and then the wonderful part of giving myself a check once I've completed that particular edit. I don't do mine in order, but mainly do the easy fixes first, then the bigger ones so I have longer to mull them over. :)

Ghenet Myrthil said...

Good luck with your edits!!

Carolyn Charron said...

My edit routine is quite similar to yours but my desk is MUCH messier! My favourite step is the "let-it-sit-for-a-bit" part, my subconscious really can do much of the work before I even start.

Good luck with your most recent rounds of edits. :D

Sarah Hipple said...

My process is very similar, although possibly (probably) a bit less organized.

I think you also forgot to mention (or just barely touched upon) the emotional roller-coaster of, "Oh ... they didn't love it. I thought they'd love it." (Which, of course, may not even be accurate). Which (hopefully) eventually changes into the very energized, "Okay! I know exactly what I'll do to fix that problem, and then the book will be better than ever!"

Also involved (for me): a yellow highlighter, a printed off email (from my CP) and lots of notes going every which way in the margins.

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