Editing? Ask Yourself This. And This.

manuscript and notebook She Who Comes Forth work in progressI’m in the process of turning this pile of scribbled-upon paper into a book. In other words, I’m editing the first draft of my work in progress. (Well, okay, I’m actually working with a Word document, but it started out with pen on paper).

As I work through each of the fifteen sections that may very well end up being chapters, I ask myself questions like these:

blue flames question markWhy?

Is this logical?

Would it really take that long?

Could it possibly happen that fast?

Why this word/sentence/paragraph? What do they add to the story?

Why would he/she/they say/do/think/want that?

Does she know that yet? Why would she care?


The first whack at the first draft is really hard. And annoying. Here’s why: to create that first draft, the imagining part of my brain worked full blast, making up scenes and putting down words. That was hard enough.

But editing that first draft is a negotiation between the Editor side of the brain — asking all those questions — and the Imaginer, who must re-imagine and re-create. “Hey you, this doesn’t make sense. Come here and fix it!” The two sides don’t always get along. The Imaginer is a free spirit and doesn’t like being ordered around. The Editor is a bit obsessive.

In fact, I started writing this post to get away from the situation. Sections #6 and #7 needed some significant tweaks to make plausible a really important scene in Section #14. Think Rubik’s Cube. And I finally got around to figuring out just how many days elapse over the course of the first ten sections. Surprise! There’s no way my character could get a reply on Day 19 to a letter she sent on Day 15. It’s a long way from Luxor, Egypt to Providence, Rhode Island, and no one was sending emails, texts, or even faxes in 1962!

Fix, fix, fix!

hammer and anvilI don’t know about other writers, but when I finish a scene or chapter, it’s tight, like a glued and clamped piece of woodwork. Each line cues the next one. There’s no gap into which a little extra can be wedged. If a scene needs to be adjusted or corrected, I have to wrench the whole thing apart and rebuild it.


Creating a timeline was a great idea. Inserting DAY 1, DAY 2, etc. into the text was an even better one. At last I feel in control of chronological details. I wish I’d thought of doing this earlier. A bonus fact I’ve discovered is that 1962 and 2018 share a calendar, so I can even get days of the week right. But then there are those moon phases, which aren’t the same.

Copy of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes used paperback

From the basement’s random used book collection.

BTW, if you want to see writing with a lot of strong verbs and minimal use of that frowned-upon word, “was,” grab a copy of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and read the first couple of chapters. It’s amazing, full-tilt action writing, and yet poignant and poetic. Something to strive for while massaging text.


    1. I don’t know why it took me so long to think of that trick. I’m always adding notes to myself in the WIP document (purple and all caps). Just have to remember to delete them before publishing!
      I’ve rediscovered all sorts of authors by reading books from our basement during 90 to 30 second rests when I’m exercising down there.

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  1. Excellent post. It’s nice to see somebody else who writes their first draft on paper. It slows down the process, but I value it so much.

    I feel your editing pain—I’m in the process of editing a first draft too. I’ve had to re-write the first two chapters so far. The original draft of chapter one was 12,000 words long. Shocking.

    I’ve shared your post on my blog. I think others will find your approach helpful!

    Good luck with the edits!

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  2. Oh, yes. I know the feeling. Especially when you come across a pieceof writing that makes you say ‘Did I really write that? It’s brilliant’, and then realise it adds nothing to the story and must go.
    As to creating a timeline. I found out about that in book 3 of my fantasy series, The Wolves of Vimar. Book 2 followed one part of the group of people who had been split at the beginning of the second book, and Book 3 follows the other half. Since there were a few places where I had to know what the others were doing at that time, I needed to create a timeline for that. I;ve done it since then and it helps a great deal.

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  3. Have a safe and interesting journey Audrey.
    I thought I would hate all of the processes of re-writing and re-editing. Became fun?
    As regards ‘Day/Days’ I started with that system, then as the narrative grew deeper I started to experiment (or maybe at the time- cheating; the internal jury is out) with the notion that Time is out of joint and does not appear as the same to everyone… and oh joy I found a book by theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli ‘The Order of Time’ which deals with this very subject….oh gladsome day….vindication (loophole?)! I recommend it to SF/Fantasy/Paranormal writers, brims with possibilities for plots and narration ideas.
    All the best

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    1. I guess this is the first book I’ve written where I thought timing (fictitious events, real moon phases, and some other real events) really mattered. Thanks for reading and commenting, John.

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  4. I’ve always used a timeline! Not to tell me what should happen but to tell me what has happened, even down to writing what time it happened – it’s an absolute necessity when writing crime.

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  5. I’m a novice writer and my books have all been based on actual events. Perhaps if when I start writing pure fiction this in-depth process will be relevant. I read Stephen King’s book on writing. I like his approach that writing is like digging for fossils. There is no reason for the dig, but you go with the fossils you find. That made sense to me. I enjoyed your post.

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  6. I can relate, Audrey. The first editing pass is so important. I’m an outliner, so when I start the second draft, I hope that I have most of the plot holes filled, plausibility in place, the characters acting consistently. But somehow that’s not the case. There are always new insights as those questions are asked. It’s challenging – but feels so good when we’re done!! Excellent post and Happy Editing!

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