I just turned in my second round of edits on THE UNBOUND EMPIRE! During the first (structral) round of edits, I posted a Twitter thread about the process. Here’s a lightly edited version of that thread:
When I was young and foolish, I thought revising/editing was just what I now understand to be line edits and copyediting. Cleaning up awkward phrasing, picking stronger words, fixing errors, etc. And that’s all great! But that comes pretty late in the game.
Working with a publisher, I have official cycles of edits where I’m turning in drafts and then I get feedback at increasingly granular levels from my editors. But on my own process was pretty similar, just without hard deadlines at which I had to stop and call it a draft.
The first big phase is structural edits. These include the main building blocks of the story. I’m looking for stuff like:
- Characters whose arcs need strengthening
- Weak subplots that need to be expanded, merged, or cut
- Pacing – major chunks that move too fast or slow
- Stakes: I can ALWAYS raise the stakes after the first draft
- Agency: I ALWAYS need to give my characters more of it after my first try
- Does what everyone is doing even make any sense (given their goals)
- Relationships: are they compelling & do they develop
I’m looking at the bones, the shape of the story. I try to pull WAAAAAYYY back and squint and see what it looks like.
If my story is a drawing of a dog, this is the part where I make sure it has the right number of eyes and legs and that everything is roughly the right size, and that it doesn’t have a fish tail or bug wings—NOT when I’m doing shading effects and lovely fur textures.
THE UNBOUND EMPIRE is probably, of all the books I’ve ever written, the one where I’ve done the best job on basic structure on the first try. So at the structural edit phase, I also worked on some stuff that I might otherwise hit in a second pass, like:
- Internality: Making sure we’re immersed in the character’s FEEEEELINGS and I’m not just coldly describing what’s happening
- Convenience: Removing coincidences that further the plot and making sure everything happens because of actual reasons that are driven by the story
Other things that I often wind up rubbing in deeper in a second pass (after the structural one) include:
- Voice (especially making sure my characters all sound different when they’re speaking)
- Clarity (I need feedback to get this right—seeing what readers are confused about)
- Transitions – I always write terrible transitions from place to place or arc to arc in early drafts and struggle to fix them later!
- Page-level pacing: tightening rambly bits and drawing out intense bits more
Setting – making sure it’s immersive & evocative
My drafts used to get much shorter in edits as I found all kinds of redundant or unnecessary stuff I could cut. (I especially had this terrible tendency to write “let’s talk about what we’re about to do” and “let’s talk about what we just did” scenes.)
These days my drafts tend to get longer as I add more emotionally meaningful scenes that advance character relationships and internal plot to round out all the OMG ACTION DANGER! type plot scenes. Draft 2 of Book 3 is probably going to be about 25K words longer than Draft 1. (Update: It was about 35K words longer than Draft 1.)
Only after all this stuff (which can be 1-2+ full edit cycles with feedback from editors or beta readers, and 2-5++ full drafts) do I get to the level of doing line edits and polishing language.
Usually at this point only like maybe 20-50% of my first draft remains.
Since getting a publisher (YAY!), I’m lucky enough to have editors involved giving me feedback for each major cycle, which is incredible. But before that, I got feedback from beta readers & CPs at similar points, and then from my agent. Good feedback is essential for perspective.
In my teens and 20’s, I would have been horrified to hear about all this work! Revision sounded super boring. But somewhere along the way, I realized that revision is just MORE WRITING, which is fun.
The first time I write a scene, it’s like practice. Maybe I’ll knock it out of the park on the first try! But at least as often, on the next pass I’m like “Nah, I bet I can do better than that.” And usually I can.
As an example, there are at least two key scenes near the end of THE UNBOUND EMPIRE that I rewrote nearly from scratch three times to get them right! The second pass was okay on each of them, but I thought I could do better and they were important scenes, so I gave it another try.
What’s your editing process?