Iterative Editing


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What is iterative editing? It means that you make more passes through a manuscript, with less time spent on each pass. Hopefully, the result is a more impactful, cleaner story.

When I was writing “Finish the Damn Book!” This idea kept cropping up, over and over again. The first half of the book is all about the first draft, but after that it provides several ancillary tips for editing and publishing. Just like a first draft. Edits can take a very long time.

So long, in fact, that I’m limiting my production of new texts at the moment to go back and revisit all of the books I’ve already written. There’s some good stuff in there, and coupled with my new philosophy on various marketing principals, I want to bring these stories off the hard drive and into the light.

If you want to write more than one book, then iterative editing is a technique that you don’t necessarily need to adopt, but one that you should at least be aware of.

What is Iterative Editing?

To put it briefly, iterative editing means taking short passes through a novel with corrections as you go. In FTDB I recommended, and still recommend, starting with block edits. These are very short passes where you correct only the most glaring errors, and turn of the “line editor” part of your brain to absorb the story as a reader would. If you aren’t at “reading speed,” it’s hard to capture those little detail errors. Your job in this pass is the same as a cinematographer for movie making. The story must make sense. The plot must be compelling, and one scene must flow seemlessly into the next. Use a notebook or separate document to jot down notes about where the story needs to be fixed. We’re talking big things here, like characters that are introduced far too early, placement of people and objects suddenly shifting, unnecessary scenes, or scenes that still need to be written, etc. Your next pass will be correcting these issues.

After that, the next batch of iterations is the boring part of editing, or the fun part, depending. This involves working with your prose directly. Strengthening words, ridding the text of redundancy, and correcting whatever typos you happen to see. Don’t focus on them, but fix them. I perform these passes at around 15 minutes for every 1000 words. So when I say that I got 2 hours of editing in, that probably means that I corrected 4 short, 2000 word chapters (on my present work).

In general, if a sentence hangs me up, or I can’t readily find a way to fix it, I make a decision. It’s either eliminated or skipped.

You will notice that as your book becomes cleaner, more vibrant, and easier on the eyes, the tiny mistakes tend to stand out a LOT more. A scrambled section of draft will call your attention to tense problems and weird or passive verbs, while the next pass might catch some “it’s/its” problems or typos. The pass after that, you will be dressing your sentences better to make them more impactful, and the next will have you moving commas around.

Basically, if you can do a “pass” in around 20 hours (for a regular length novel), then you can let the story rest while you work on your other books, and come back to it fresh. How long do you spend editing?

Putting out more books

This means for me, that I need to set a lot more of my time on editing things, and less on crafting stories. I have three good books just sitting on my hard drive. One of them is pretty much finished! It doesn’t take me long to draft a novel, when I’m plugging away, and lately my focus has been slipping. Maybe I need to read Finish the Damn Book! again. Yes, I didn’t write that for you, I wrote it for me, and then released it to help others.

Anyway, the iterative process gives time for rest and reflection between passes. It reduces the stress placed on one book, and it allows you to write others. If you are drafting fast, it might be a while before the first one is ready for publication or querying, but once it is, you will have two or three directly behind it, and you can have others in the works. This process, when utilized properly, and with quick drafts, can turn you into a book making machine. You can realize ideas in print faster, write more, and of course become a stronger writer while you are doing it.

The potential is unlimited, and it’s so much less boring than the typical hour-per-paragraph style that I’ve seen some use. No professional editor spends an hour on a single page. None of them.


Your thoughts? Comments/Complaints?


This morning, I’ve been meditating on burn-out. I rush through my work in the morning, and I’m useless for creating in the afternoons. I’m pretty sure that the two are tied together, and that involves a LOT more than editing. Those big word counts I’ve been posting on #AugWritingChallenge? Yea, all of that work, including the editing, is done in about four hours, and I crash. Today I’m ignoring my “editing timer.” I’ve done enough chapters that I know how long it takes me to finish one. Don’t “rush” through your work. I’m pretty sure I didn’t imply this, but just want to clarify. The point here is to fix what you are ready to fix on each pass, not to ignore all potential problems to get through the iteration quickly. Read the text, fix the things, and move on. Plot holes can only be spotted at reading speed, and most other issues can be caught as the work distills itself, a fraction at a time. Take enough time to enjoy the story as you fix it, implement good ideas, and build in side plots to keep yourself entertained. Save the grudgery for the final typo hunts. 🙂 Cheers, and happy writing.

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Author: spottedgeckgo

Writer. Making my living on my pen, and working to turn a raw chunk of land into a future homestead.

2 thoughts

    1. I’m about to make a little tweak. My morning meditation with coffee and journal revealed something. I struggle with burnout, because I log my minutes for a motivational boost. I’m tossing that to the side today. I’m not going to redact anything I said earlier, but add that it’s important not to “rush through” while you are editing. Read at a normal, slow pace so you can catch typos and stuff, just don’t hang up on tricky parts. The answers will be revealed in their own good time, maybe on the next pass 😉

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