Home » Books » Editing Stage One: The Prelim Edits

Editing Stage One: The Prelim Edits

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:

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 6.43.15 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 6.39.58 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 6.38.10 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2013-04-15 at 5.10.22 AM

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:

Screen Shot 2013-04-15 at 5.11.18 AM

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.

When I first finish, I do a find and replace for all of the Xs I put in the MS (manuscript):Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 6.52.11 PM

[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!

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22 thoughts on “Editing Stage One: The Prelim Edits

  1. This was a great post, and very helpful. Thanks for your tips. And it’s amazing how much we have to juggle and still get done! Tweeted!

    • When I started, I wrote two 100,000 word books in the span of a month. One took 14 days, the other 10… I was on fire! Uh, but it took me forever to edit them, and even if I edited them how I do no, I’d still have been able to write and edit them faster. It seems the more books you write, the things have you to do! Websites, blogs, networking, juggling deadlines, updating old books, marketing, on and on, things that weren’t even given a second thought in those early stages.

      Glad you liked my post and enjoyed my partial explanation for my madness.

  2. Rose, Keep up the wonderful work you do. I applaud anyone who has the fortitude of going through such a long and arduous process. I myself am in my early stages of writing and can only hope that I will have the guts and fortitude to get as far as you have. Thank you for all your wonderful work and for the great tips that you continuously give. Love ya!

    • Thanks, Sandy. I’m glad I could help some. Everyone is different and what ends up being the right method for them is often different.

      Best of luck with your writing! It all has to start somewhere. Mine started at the dining table while my kids were running wild and screaming.

    • I make notes like: change oh what’s his name back to Blah Blah.

      And I lied. I didn’t want to seem like a totally, disorganized madwoman, but I probably have closer to about 200 of these little flags–I might go a few pages without any, but it usually catches up because I’ll end up with 3-4 on some pages, but shhh don’t tell anyone!

      Thanks for stoping by!

  3. This comment thing is very interesting. I’ll have to look into that. When I have a name that I can’t figure out at that moment, I use ________ to denote one name I don’t know or ____ _____ to denote first and last. I tend to put my notes in parenthasis in the document.

    I will definitely be looking into the comment thing. One of the programs I use for writing has a way of doing comments, but only for the whole section, not for specific things like what you showed.

    • Not to scare you, but… I used to do both of those things, until one of my (asides in parenthesis) was discovered literally just two days before the file was to be posted by the third proofer. No, I’m terrified to make any kind of notations within the text. LOL

      MS word and Pages allows you to highlight a letter, word, paragraph, page, whatever you want and attach a comment. I use OpenOffice (not because I’m too cheap to buy the others…I have them, I just prefer the autosave this thing does every 2-3 minutes) and it doesn’t allow for highlight text, just to put it in there. Took a little to get used to, but I like it now.

      • Don’t worry, you haven’t scared me. (Or maybe you wanted to, so I don’t get caught with something like that.) I did neglect to mention something else I do with those in the section notes. I put them in a size font that is about twice everything else. Comments like you are mentioning though would be much nicer. Although my giant (INSERT SCENE HERE) in size 60 something font will probably remain. It just smaller comments about the actual scene, sentence, etc, that I would like to have a better method of using.

        I use a combination of MS Word and recently (as of December) a program called Scrivener, which is pretty cool. It allows you to split up your story kind of like it’s folder system, so that you have all the scenes from one chapter together but in seperate pieces. I lets you put comments (although only on the whole scene, not specific to a piece of it) and keywords (which I use to note everyone in the scene, everyone mentioned in the scene, who has the point of view for the scene, where they are, and other things) into a piece on the side. You can collect character and locational profiles, put your research in an easy to see location. It’s pretty cool. I’ve used Open Office a little in school. I wasn’t aware that it autosaves like that (Scriveners auto saves if you stop typing for more than a few seconds and when you close it.)

        Okay, I am going to stop talking about that, because I think I sound a little like an add. I only meant it to explain what I am using for my writing. I will definitely have to look into the highlighting with Word, since I do have and use that.

  4. Rose–I do that a lot, too. Sometimes I can’t think of the right name for the hero or heroine or a secondary. Sometimes I don’t like the way the scene is reading to me, and I’ll type in another color, in all caps: THIS SCENE NEEDS WORK!!! Good luck with the Officer series — I’m looking forward to reading them.

  5. I find this fascinating. I lvoe those little short cuts. I know for me when I was writing all my papers for history classes, I had to write them in one fall swoop and then go back and edit and fix things but I wish I had known some of these little tricks. So excited to hear that you latest book is in the editing stage. I will be waiting as patiently as I possable can for it to go through all the editings phase before it comes cout.

  6. I love the comment feature when editing. But I still use the _____ when I can’t think of the name of a town I want to use (which is most of the time). Then I do a search on it when I want to replace. I’m afraid to use anything else in the text. Like you mentioned before, you can forget and leave it in!

    • I was afraid at first to use the X, but since I always use the same symbol, I figure I’m pretty safe. I just wouldn’t make notes within the text.

      I once sent my book to a friend to critique and she wrote in purple font IN the document. I nearly fainted. Apparently that’s common for some people but it totally made me paranoid. So much so that I scrolled through the document she’d worked on and fixed any typo or flaw she found in my original copy. I was too scared of having wonky formatting or a stray line of comment text in the final book. LOL

      • I’m always paranoid, apparently. I never use the copy that people make notes on. I have my original up, and the copy with the edits. In fact, I have had three copies up before, the original and two with editing notes from other people. I switch back and forth between the different copies and make the edits myself on my original copy.

  7. You’re more organized than I am. All I do is highlight the word or part that I have a question about. LOL Then when I do my second draft, I fix the highlighted areas. The more I write, the less I have to highlight, though the little details (hair color, exact spelling of a name, etc) always end up highlighted during the initial stages.

    Editing is a huge pain. Too bad the first draft isn’t perfect. 😀

    • Amen! Too bad the first draft isn’t perfect.

      Names always worry me because there are so many varied spellings (especially for lady’s names and last names) and spell check doesn’t remember which one you used before to flag it when you vary. LOL Too bad…

      I learned to be organized after realizing that if I put a little more effort into the initial stages (even if it took more time to) it would make the rest go much smoother and faster.

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