Friday, December 24, 2021

The Edit Loop


Every writer has a different approach to writing and editing. Every successful writer is probably going to tell you editing is an essential.

Every great writer without the money to afford an editor has to edit him / herself. It is my firm belief that if you don't edit, then you'll get nowhere. Period.

So, here's my current approach, until I'm rich enough to afford a real editor...


In my previous editing related post I included a (fun) diagram. This time, it's a little simpler, and a little more serious. (Click to enlarge.)

Basically, I go through three stages.

1. Writing

As I'm a 'plantser' I tend to create things on the fly, but I'll just as easily forget about them again. So to keep track of events and characters I use a cheat sheet.

So, to start I write or edit my chapters, check that chapter against my notes, and at the end of each chapters I (should) update my notes.

Then I keep repeating that until the novel's finished. Of course, I might revisit earlier / later chapters to make changes / retrofits / add foreshadowing, or fix mistakes and inconsistencies. But at this stage I'm still 'banging out' the story.

Note that at this stage I already try to write as well as I can (grammar, tense, formatting, dialogue format and tags, etc.), simply because it will help me spot my own mistakes even before I start editing, and that will save a lot of time later on.


- Write

- Fix some of my typical early mistakes (mostly the non-native stuff)

- Update my notes (X) every time I finish a chapter

- Repeat until the novel's done

I might do some light editing, but not full editing yet, because when you're editing too much at this stage you lose your focus.

(But again, that isn't an excuse to write crappy. You'll have to edit it anyway, so why not do as much right as you can during your first draft?)

2. Streamline

At this point I have a novel, but whilst battling with words I may have succumbed to a host of failures, mistakes, shortcomings.

These can take all sorts of forms. The first thing I do is 'streamline' the novel, which can be done by looking for certain keywords that are often related to (repeated) mistakes.

I found an interesting take on this part of the process, written by Vivien Reis . Here's my wordlist, based on hers.

Basically, I go through all those keywords, and look if I used them, and if my writing in those areas did not succumb to the I-this I-that, purple prose, and show-don't-tell traps.

Also, you might be able to get rid of many 'useless' words.


- Look for words related to common problems, and fix the surrounding paragraphs

- Remove what you don't need

3. TTS + Edit

Lot's of things can go wrong, so in this phase I check on (many of) those.

I use Balabolka, a TTS (Text To Speech) tool, but you might want to simply read out aloud to yourself. 

The goal is to put yourself into the reader's place and read the story at a regular pace without prior knowledge.

If I simply read through the story without a TTS tool I tend to overlook stupid mistakes. This forces me to pay attention.

(You could do this stage whilst exercising in front of a big screen, with the TTS running. Make sure you don't let yourself get cold in between exercises because you spent too much time editing.)

I write in Google Docs, and use Balabolka as my TTS tool. I have it set up in such a way that Balabolka monitors the clipboard, so every time I copy more than 500 characters, Balabolka starts reading the text back to me. It isn't perfect, but it works.

You could use the build-in tool of Word, or @Voice on Android, or simply read your work out aloud. (I actually find myself reading along, out loud, to loud comments by my kids, who think their dad's an utter wackjob. They are right.)

I keep repeating this loop until I'm entirely happy (well, 99%, nobody's ever 100% happy) with a chapter before moving on to the next one. Sometimes I go back a few chapters and do another check. It may take ten full re-reads to get things right, and sometimes, I still decide to delete it the 11th time.


- TTS (Balabolka)

- And do it again, again, again and again and again and...

4. Grammarly

Tools like Grammarly help but they're not perfect! I primarily use Grammarly to look for stupid mistakes, spelling errors, things like that. Grammarly isn't perfect, so never blindly accepts all its suggestions.

I also look at Grammarly's suggestions for commas, and disagree with half of them 😁 Even then, I know that I've paid attention to them, and cleaned it up as best as I can.

5. Done... right?

At this stage I might decide to completely redo the work, do some edits, move or remove chapters, re-chapter, whatever, and I may find myself back at stage 1. That's life.

If you have Alpha / Beta readers, this might be the stage to share your work with them. Or you might send your work to a pro-editor and be done with it (after paying him or her, of course).

If you submit to an editor or a publisher, you may want to address em-dashes and curly quotes as well, and check out your export format. More about that here:

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