17

I am currently trying to edit a one my most recent novel. Trying is the keyword. I asked a few people to read my book as beta readers, but all of them have been busy, so no progress on that front.

I have a list of what I consider the major plot problems in my book, but I can't find the energy to fix them.

My book is littered with bad style (I did write it across two NaNoWriMos, so it is naturally in need of some heavy editing), but I can't bring myself to edit the style before the plot is fixed.

Every time I go to edit, I find myself sitting and staring at the screen. Editing, I have learned, is a painful process. I can't get in the mood to edit.

What are your suggestions to fight editor's block? Should I try to find more beta readers and try harder to get them to read it? Should I try to ignore the pain, and edit anyways?

  • 27
    If you know of problems, then why would you waste your beta readers' time before fixing those? Isn't it better to fix the major problems, especially "major plot problems", that you know of, then ask your beta readers for input on the result? – a CVn Jul 4 '18 at 15:30
  • 2
    @MichaelKjörling You make an excellent point that I hadn't thought of. My thought process was somewhere along the lines of "locate most (if not all) of the plot problems with beta readers help and then fix them" rather than "fix problems I am aware of and then ask beta readers." Thank you for your point! That is quite helpful. – White Eagle Jul 4 '18 at 15:46
  • 10
    That's a valid approach if you don't consider your beta readers, and their time, to be a scarce resource. Maybe they aren't, but I'd wager a guess that in many cases they are, and you should use as little of that resource as possible while getting the result you're after. :-) – a CVn Jul 4 '18 at 16:09
  • 2
    This question and it's answers may also be of interest to you. – Ash Jul 4 '18 at 16:43
  • 2
    This "map" is one of my favorite resources for figuring out what I need to edit (click once to zoom in.) – FoxElemental Jul 4 '18 at 18:36
24

If you want to be a writer, you had better get used to reading and re-reading your own material. I just completed what I hope is the final edit on my latest book. I haven't been keeping score, but I have read the entire book through ... at least 5 times. And every time through I find problems I missed on previous reads.

How to get the motivation? I don't know what to say to that except, Your motivation should be that you want this book to be a quality product, and you know it won't be unless you go over it and over it and over it. I write non-fiction, so the issues are a little different, but I cringe when in reviewing what I've written I find a factual error. What if it had gone out that way?! I'd look like an idiot! I recently found one place in my current book where I got two sources mixed up, I quoted one but attributed it to the other. Which would be bad enough, except that in the text I made a point about the difference, and so I got it backwards! Yahh, I would have looked stupid. I only found it because I was quoting the same source elsewhere and I had to go look back at the original. Compare the effort required to proof read your book with the embarrassment you will suffer if an error slips through the cracks. :-)

  • 3
    Stellar answer! I set a timer last night and told myself I would edit for that long. I went longer than the timer and survived. I particularly like "if you want to be a writer, you had better get used to reading and re-reading your own material." Thanks very much for the encouragement. – White Eagle Jul 5 '18 at 15:18
  • 1
    JMS use to go a further extreme and say if you suffer from "Writer's Block", you aren't really a writer. His point was a real writer is someone who can't not be writing; they will be writing no matter what, so in the end its just a matter of aiming the hose in a productive direction. When I first read that, I thought he was being kind of harsh, but as I get older I'm not so sure he wasn't onto at least a little something there. – T.E.D. Jul 5 '18 at 19:27
  • 2
    @WhiteEagle speaking from painful experience, DO NOT edit your work until every plot hole is plugged. If you do, you'll polish a turd: that is edit large sections that later get cut due to plot holes. It's a waste of time. Plot first. Edit last. Also, for motivation, I use the Pomodoro technique: work for 52 minutes, break for 15. And during that 52 minutes, I use FocusMe which prevents me from accessing any websites or applications that aren't related to my writing. It really helps. GOOD LUCK! – GGx Jul 6 '18 at 10:54
  • @GGx If by "edit" here you mean "fix typos and spelling and grammar errors", I get your point. I can see a case to be made for fixing the big problems first, then working down to the small detail problems. Personally I don't divide up my proof reads that way. Every time through I look for any errors I can find and fix as I go. I think I'm less likely to miss something that way. But that's a whole different question, and I think an interesting one. – Jay Oct 17 '18 at 14:03
  • @Jay I never used to divide my proofs either, but finding out a long way down the line that I had a major issue with a novel I'd polished was a very painful experience. Cutting and rewriting chapters I'd edited to perfection made polishing after the rewrite completely soul-destroying for me. That novel still sits on a shelf and is hard to go back to. I don't do that any more. My trusted beta readers get a first draft on the understanding that it will be messy but all I'm looking for are major issues with the story. It's hard to send work out like that, but saves a ton of time for me. – GGx Oct 17 '18 at 14:16
14

My bandaid may not fit your wound, but here it is all the same.

When I'm editing, I break it down into sections to make it more palatable for me and my ADHD-having muse.

First I work on the plot holes and place notes where needs to be beefed up, and where needs to be trimmed.

Then I go in and start trimming the fat. Unneeded scenes marked on the previous pass-through are cut and placed in a separate document (they sometimes come in handy later, so I don't delete).

With this done, I look at my target wordcount, and I allot words to parts that need to be beefed up. Then it's down into beefing up those scenes.

When I'm done with that bit, I go over the whole WIP (Work In Progress) for new plotholes and rough patches and I start marking those (this is purely a read through with leaving notes). Parts that absolutely HAVE to make it into the final draft are highlighted one colour (I prefer green), parts that are a bit rough are highlighted another (I prefer yellow), and parts that are apt to be cut are highlight yet another (I prefer red).

Then I open a new document and I start writing it all again. The green parts of every scene are put in. The yellows are reworded and smoothed out. And the reds are only used if I fall short of an allotted wordcount (but heavily reworked so it no longer makes me cringe).

Once I'm done with this phase, I go for a complete read-through again. If I'm happy with it, I wrap it in a nice little bow, and I send it to my beta readers. If I'm not, I go back to the first phase and start tearing it apart again.

After I get feedback on a chapter-by-chapter basis from my betas, I take their critiques into account and figure out what needs to change on a scene by scene basis (while making meticulous notes what this will affect down the road).

Do this a few times, and I feel confident my work isn't going to make me cringe when I hand it to a cold-beta (who I keep separate from my alpha readers and the betas that have already read the previous drafts).

So how do you stay motivated through it all? Well. What I do is remind myself of one simple fact:

I am a writer. If not this, then what?

  • 1
    Thanks for the wonderful answer! I gave the checkmark to Jay since I found his answer more helpful on an emotional level, but I found your answer quite helpful. – White Eagle Jul 5 '18 at 15:20
  • 2
    I'm not here to get the 'most right answers'. I'm here because I learn as I read, and sometimes have something interesting to say. If you learned something from me, there's little more I can ask for. – Fayth85 Jul 5 '18 at 17:31
  • Useful ideas here for other aspiring writers (um, me!) too :-) – Chappo Oct 14 '18 at 23:24
10

I'm generally much more messy with my editing than @Fayth85, (I mean, I do not have a procedure, an order of editing things - I just take care of whatever doesn't feel right,) and I do quite a bit of editing while I'm writing (it's how I deal with writing block), but here are some things that have helped me:

  • Get a beta reader to read your book, or at least start reading it. Beta readers have helped me find things that don't work, but no less important - when a beta reader says "I like this", it helps me get more excited and more confident about my work.
  • Discuss plot problems with a friend. Friend can contribute ideas regarding how to solve the problem, or just serve as a willing bouncing wall for your thought process. Either way, you come away with solutions. Said friend doesn't need to have read your story - just give them enough information to understand the problem.
  • If you see a problem in your text and can't find a solution, mark it. (Some people use different colours for different problems, I prefer leaving a comment with brief description of what the problem is, though I wish it were possible to have different-coloured comments), then move on. Don't get bogged down over one problem - that's disheartening. Come back later, and the fresh outlook might help you solve it. The same way one is taught to do exams - not getting bogged down over a question.
  • Solve the plot problems first: dealing with style when you know you'd have to rewrite, maybe throw away, the whole chunk anyway because the plot isn't working, can be disheartening too: it's hard to find the motivation to do what you think might be empty work.
  • Go back to point #1. I find that nothing motivates me as much as hearing "I really like this part, but this other part isn't working." I immediately want to get everything to be as praiseworthy as the part I got praised for.

You would need to do a complete read-through of your work many times, of course, until you are satisfied.

(I should say, @Fayth85's system might be better than my mess. I just don't work well with rigid systems, even ones I set for myself. See what works best for you.)

  • 2
    Mega ditto on getting someone else to proof-read. I've had many times where what I had in my head didn't make it to paper entirely successfully! Someone else reading it can say, "Wait, who is this 'Roger' person who suddenly appeared?" or whatever. I had the whole thing in my head, but I left out a crucial part when I put it on paper. – Jay Jul 5 '18 at 15:05
  • 2
    @Jay - I'd add that you shouldn't argue with your readers when they bring you something. If a single reader is confused over one bit, you probably have a problem. If two are confused over the same bit, you 100% have a problem. – T.E.D. Jul 5 '18 at 19:33
  • 1
    @T.E.D. Even if you reject a proof-readers advice, I wouldn't argue with him. Unless you're paying them, they're doing you a favor by reading your work. Thank them politely for any comments whether you act on them or not. But yeah, if two readers say something you've written is unclear, no matter how sure you are that you made it completely clear, apparently you didn't. – Jay Jul 5 '18 at 23:18
8

Separate concerns.

If you think of editing as "fixing everything in my novel," it's going to be a huge and unmanageable chore, and there's nowhere to begin it that will give you even a sense of progress.

Instead, list the various aspects of the novel you want to fix.

Plot is one aspect; fixing language is another; maybe you have a character whose voice developed and you want to rewrite now that you know them better. And getting feedback from beta readers is both (A) an aspect for you to solve, and (B) something that will give you more issues to address.

Put those aspects into a useful order. You don't need to worry about typos in a chapter you'll be rewriting anyway. Beta feedback will be both more helpful and more enthusiastic if you clear away known major issues first.

Now you have, effectively, a game plan, or a concrete TODO list you can follow.

You can break it down further -- maybe your plot-change requires two new chapters, taking out frequent references to something you've changed, and putting in references to a new element that you've added. Each of those is its own task, and each one of them is pretty manageable!

You can play with the order of tasks. Start with the ones you enjoy, or the ones that energize you. Or, start with something so awful you feel it's dragging the whole book down; something you're dying to see fixed already. Do what works for you -- and cross it off the list.

Maintain your own well-being and focus.

This is a wide topic, but I think some good suggestions for you right now are:

  • Take a break from the manuscript if you need it.

  • Choose a friend who can play cheerleader, who will encourage you about the book, rather than just looking for criticism.

  • Critique other writers' work, in workshops or online forums; that's a great and less-painful way of getting yourself into a more editor-ish mindset.

  • If you enjoy writing but not editing, then:

    • Keep doing writing exercise; keep your creative juices flowing!
    • Try rewriting scenes, rather than editing them; see if you like those better!
  • 1
    Making a concrete to-do list is great advice IMO, even if in the end you don't follow through on each of the tasks. But then again I'm one who likes checklists, too. – a CVn Jul 6 '18 at 7:14
6

I've been editing what I hope to be my first full-length fiction book for the better part of two years. The main thing that helps is distance. Whenever I am stuck, I do something else for a couple days or weeks. With some distance to what I wrote, I see what needs editing and how to edit it much, much clearer.

I've also gone over and over everything many, many times. I've read the book a dozen times, and I've read it to my wife in simultaneous translation to english (not the native language of either of us). Every of these steps has helped to identify problems and solutions.

Instead of fixating on individual problems, which I agree causes writers block, I'm using the notes and highlighting features of my writing tool (Scrivener, in my case) to jot down quick notes of what I notices or want to change, then continue on. Then I go through the notes and do the actual editing. I found that seperating reading and identifying problems from the actual editing process helped me a lot. It also helps me to focus on one problem at a time. So when I am editing story points, and I notice some bad style, I just add a note and continue editing story. When I am editing style and notice something wrong with the story, I just make a quick note of it and continue focussing on the style.

6

Ditto to the other answers.

I break it down into specific goals. Each pass requires about a week. Check commas and other grammatical issues. Fix instances of passive voice. Make character voices consistent. Add more sensory details. Tighten. Check for adverb abuse. Map to the three act structure. Hammer the protagonist's actions/plot to their goal. Along those lines, make the protagonists choose every decision/rework instances where someone else makes a decision, to them making a decision. (So many details, I gave each a dedicated pass)

My beta readers got the tenth draft and said there was no tension. So the issues I had were fundamental structural issues and I tackled those next.

Add tension. Ramp up emotion. Break story into scenes and sequels, and score each. Look for the emotional turning points - are these correctly timed? remove pointless scenes (cut your darlings.)

I'm on the 22 draft. (I had no idea.) But the end of the story probably needs more dedicated attention because yeah it's tiring.

Evidently this process can be done in four drafts. maybe the next book I can do it in four drafts. :) One can hope.

  • You shouldn't count drafts. You should count weeks. – Stig Hemmer Jul 5 '18 at 7:47
  • I'm on draft 29 now, and week ~60. I love the book, and beta reads are strong now. Current draft is trying to draw out the narrative a bit, to (1) hew to publishable work and (2) it's an opportunity for more interiority. Getting there. – DPT Oct 15 '18 at 0:49
4

You have already identified the plot as your main problem. As long as the plot remains unfixed, you feel no motivation for fixing the rest.

As you have discovered, you can NOT fix the plot just by staring at the text. The problem isn't confined to single sentences and paragraphs that can be fixed in isolation, but is rather that the different parts of the text doesn't fit together.

You need to close the editor, lean back, and think. I don't know how you do your best thinking, maybe you need a hammock, maybe you need a whiteboard. You know yourself best.

One important part of thinking is no distractions. Internet-connected computers are horrible for that. It is so easy to just pop by Stackexchange or somewhere else. Just say no to that.

You have made a list of plot problems. Good. Select one problem and focus on that.

Any plot problem is that Part A doesn't fit with Part B. A setup that doesn't match its resolution, a character that seems different from one part to another, etc.

It is easy to think "Part B is bad because I have already established Part A." It can be useful to turn that on its head and say "Part A is bad because it doesn't set up properly for part B." This can open your mind to other solutions.

Possible solutions are to remove either part, or to change one or both of them. Or perhaps you need something new elsewhere to make things work out. Since I don't know your exact problems, I cannot say more.

Once you have worked out in broad strokes how to solve the problem, it is time to open the editor again and start editing. Remove what should be removed. Change what should be changed. Add what should be added. Problem solved, on to the next.

The plot will never be perfect. It is important find a point where you say "Good enough" and move on. Then it is time to look at the other problems with style and spelling and whatnot.

Good Luck!

  • +1 for eliminating internet distractions. "It is so easy to just pop by Stackexchange or somewhere else." So true, so true. Oh, um, wait... – Chappo Oct 14 '18 at 23:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.