I get asked all the time by curious readers about why books aren’t out within days of being done. I’ve done a few posts on what my editing process is like and now that I finished another book, I think I’ll try to show you over the next few weeks.
I finished this book at 4:59 yesterday morning. I was so close Friday afternoon, but didn’t make it, then I spent Saturday with my family and Saturday night with my husband; woke up at 3:20 on Sunday and had to go work on it. I just couldn’t sleep until it was done! An hour and thirty-nine minutes later, the epilogue was done!
Part of the reason I’m able to write anywhere between 500-700 words in 30 minutes or 1,000-1,500 in an hour (if I’m really on a roll–sometimes it’s more like 300-400 in thirty or 750-900 in an hour if I keep getting stuck) is that I’ve learned to use two very important things: insert > comment command and X. If I can’t think of the right word at the moment because it just eludes me or I’m not sure what a certain item would have been, I write a sentence with an X where the word should go and keep going, there is NO reason to stall a story (at least I don’t think so) just to conjure up what the perfect word is:
If I’m uncertain if a word was around during the time period I write, I insert a comment with the word “origin” on it, and move on:
Sometimes if I know I need to research something a little more to make sure I word it right or get the facts right, I leave a comment:
If I know I mentioned something about this particular topic earlier and I need to change it to match, make sure it matches, think I need to elaborate more before this point in the story, delete something about it, etc, I leave a comment:
If I think this scene needs to be fixed, but I don’t know exactly what to do about it now, and think I’ll have a better idea as I’m reading through it, I leave a comment:
I also had these little comment flags all over in all in my Banks Brothers’ Brides book where I was making notes to go back to previous books and make sure I had the facts right and that the story (or running joke) stayed consistent. Side note, I didn’t even know these things existed until I was writing Secondhand, before that I literally would stop writing and physically jot down on a piece of paper next to me what I needed to check on later. Talk about a slow boat to China. Anyway, I am a HUGE lover of these comment flags and I have probably about 60-70 of them that cover my side panel by the time I’m finished.
[I also do this if I’ve made up a name that the spell check doesn’t recognize and it’s possible I’ve misspelled it by giving it a varied definition–for example Rockhurst (which now my spellcheck does recognize) being spelled Rockherst/Rockharst or Ridge Water as opposed to Ridgewater/RidgeWater.]
I like to have a contest with myself to see how far I can get on a book before I have to start using the X. On this particular book–The Officer and the Bostoner–I made it to page 17 (single spaced) so roughly 8,000 words in. I also think it’s fun to see just how many of these I had to use…the total was 45; apparently, I had a strong start with knowing just the right word, then as momentum of the book took off my mind became too absorbed with the story.
Anyway, in what I consider my “preliminary editing stage” I do the find and replace for any possibly variation of names or words that might be wrong: night rail for nightrail, night stand for nightstand, anything that could easily be overlooked because there is a meaning for it as one word or two. This takes about 15 minutes as I’m really not trying to correct them all, just the majority and stem a large amount of corrections based on something so trivial later. The find and replace tool is a very good friend of mine. Then, I do a search on the Xs and mentioned above. Even though I had 45 Xs from words I couldn’t figure out right away, it only takes about an hour to go through all of these. I read the sentence before the X to get a better understanding of what I’m looking for and most times, the word comes immediately. It’s so much easier at this point than when the story is trying to pull me forward and yelling for me to HURRY UP! Then, I scroll through the comments and look up all of the words I’ve flagged with the words: look up or origin. Dictionary.com offers the year of origin (or a pretty narrow gap) for about 85-90% of their words. So if it falls in the time I’m writing or before, it stays. If it doesn’t, I have to go to the thesaurus, find a similar word I like and check the origin. This takes another hour (or a little longer) depending on how many of these I have marked.
I do find it funny that with this book being roughly 40 (to 70) years in the future of the books I normally write, my vocabulary allowance has grown considerably.
Once I finish that, I scroll through all of the comments and make notes of what I need to be looking for as I start my edits. If I have it flagged that I need to double-check on a certain character’s eye color or style/rank, I make sure I do that as I’m reading through and jot down details about characters, events or places that I know I need to be looking for. It’s far easier to do when you’re reading it and to make notes for the future than to be searching through the MS at every single comment to find your answer right then.
As I said, I didn’t always do this. I used to just write as it came and worried about origins, if this matched, if this contradicted itself, etc later. My first four books were written extremely fast because of this. I didn’t flag things or worry about them until I got to editing and I started on page one and just went, making sure to check the list I’d made of things I knew that needed to be addressed from time to time and looking for new things as I read through. These days, it takes me about 2-3 weeks longer to write the book (not necessarily because I stop to flag things, but more likely because I have far more going on these days that I didn’t in the early days, so I only get so many good hours of writing in each day and have to make the most of it), but because I flag things, use the X and spend about four hours to do all of these preliminary edits as soon as I reach the end, I’ve shaved about two months off of editing and can now get the book edited and done in about six weeks as opposed to between three and four months. It’s also cut down on my amount of read throughs to make sure things matched.
Keep in mind, this is just what I do, this does not work for everyone. I know people who cannot use an X or leave comments because it bothers them to no end to know that they’ve left something incomplete (or they hate editing/re-writing so much they’d rather stop and fix it or research it right now to avoid spending the time later). Every writer is different in their methods. This is just what works for me.
I have a school field trip to chaperone today so I probably won’t start with my first round of edits until late tonight or tomorrow, but I’ll try to cover that, too–as long as I don’t get too many complaints about boring everyone to tears!