Behind the Scenes: Editing My Book

Behind the Scenes: Editing My Book

Since I finished writing my novel in February, I've spent a considerable amount of time editing that first draft. A couple of months.

Okay, that isn't entirely true: I usually spent some amount of time editing while I wrote, too, but most of that consisted of on-the-fly changes that I caught as I wrote or when I skimmed through a chapter or two ahead of writing new content. But really, I started the editing process for my novel just a few months ago.

Not a lot of time at all when compared to 90% of writers out there, I'd say. The only reason I have for my falling into that arbitrary tenth percentile is that my book, from conception to right now, it less than two years old. Despite its young age, the book's gone through six major drafts, four of which were quite brutal.

Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.
— Stephen King

The first thing I did with my book, it being quite the first draft behemoth at 163 thousand words long - well over 500 paperback pages - was to trim it down. 

Thanks to the experience I received during my time at the San Francisco Writer's Conference, an event that I attended literally the day after I completed my first draft, I had a word count goal: bring it down to at least 130k, the maximum desirable length of a hard scifi novel written by a first-time author. Knowing this I went back to my alpha readers, my small but dedicated team of fanatics that were - and still are - with me from the beginning, and shared the news with the following question: "If there was a main character that you could see removed from my book, who would it be?" Much to my surprise at being not surprised, they all gave me the same answer.

The bulk of my first major pass was downgrading one main character to a secondary which also meant removing two subplots as well. This was where Scrivener came into play. See, I'm a bit of a digital hoarder and cannot bare to truly _delete_ something unless it's absolutely necessary. As you can imagine, highlighting tens of thousands of words and pressing the "Delete" button wasn't going to fly. Nope - all that data was never going to be lost, but merely relocated so I could always access it in the future.

Thus, the folder "Trimming the Fat" was born, forever a reminder in my Scrivener project file that this work had LOTS of material sliced away.

The parent folder in Scrivener for "Trimming the Fat", the space where all my cut chapters and scenes went to live - far, far away from where all the published material resided. Censorship was definitely needed to share this picture - I'm not spoiling anything from my book in such a fashion! 

In case you're wondering, the Act/Chapter/Scene designations are also obsolete, too.

Green scenes highlight areas with technical explanations. Yellow scenes are marked for possible removal.

It didn't take too long for the first major revision to be executed. The character was selected and systematically removed. First were the brutish removals of entire chapters that were from their POV, followed by entire scenes that similarly were just from their POV. Second were the more surgical removals of their subplot from the story. This required not only content removal, but content additions, as some scenes now had voids that had to be logically filled. 

So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.
— Dr. Seuss

With all the major and minor chapter/scene removals and edits related to the removal of subplots, I then focused on grammar and the structure of the remains of my story. In short, I wanted to do an initial line-editing pass over my entire novel ahead of sending it to a professional editor. To accomplish this, I left the world of Scrivener and transported my story to ProWritingAid. The software made it significantly easier to pinpoint the myriad of words and phrases that could be replaced or removed outright (your own judgement and knowledge of grammar and writing structure should always apply - the software isn't perfect, but no e-solution out there is).

Thanks to this process, I managed to cull another couple of thousand words from my book.

A "Style" report summary from one of the scenes in my book, after making several line-edit changes based on the feedback provided.

By the time I met and became friends with my critique partner, my story sat around 136k words - way lower than the original count, but still above my goal. She used a combination of MS Word and Google Docs for the management of documents related to my book (ex: her summary/review document) chapter summary data, and commenting. Thanks to her detailed review and chapter-by-chapter analysis of my story, I took deep breaths as I convinced myself to remove another chapter wholesale - a chapter I really enjoyed and was focused on two of my MCs! That wasn't the only major change that I applied thanks to her feedback, but it was certainly the single biggest change in terms of word count alone. 

I couldn't complain, however. As I locked down the fourth draft of my story, I immediately realized I not only met my goal, but brought the word count even lower - to about 126k words!

To write is human, to edit is divine.
— Stephen King

After deciding that my story was in great shape, I chose to then dash that dream by sending the fifth draft of my story to Kim Chance, my editor. The feedback she provided was both very constructive and hard to (initially) accept, but that didn't stop me from going through another round of edits. I didn't apply everything that was suggested, but the end result of what was applied was the word count initially falling to just under 125k words but then creeping back to 126k due to additional content sprinkled throughout the book.


There are several paths one can take when they finish the first draft of their book. However, one aspect of your journey will be a constant, whether you choose to self-publish or go down the traditional route: Editing. Nobody is perfect, and your first draft is as far from perfect as you can get. Your book is your baby, but think of it as a baby in the prenatal stages of life: It still has a lot of development before it can be released to the world. If you take your time, suck up the pain, and keep an open mind, you will make decisions regarding your book that will make it that much stronger in the long run.

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The Writing Zone: Stage 11 - Critique Partners

The Writing Zone: Stage 11 - Critique Partners