How to Edit in Passes

Photo credit: Law H8r on Flickr
As I work on the second draft of my newest WIP, I’ve decided to try something a little different while working on my edits. 

I’ve mentioned in the past that I like to be pretty organized when I tackle my edits, and I often employ editing lists to help me to capitalize on that organization. Even with the list method, however, editing can quickly become exhausting, and so this time around I wanted to focus on a method that would allow me to get through my edits without burning out. 

And so I decided to enhance the list method with focused passes. 

You see, oftentimes the biggest issue with editing is that writers start to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the edit at hand. Most times there will be several things to fix in any given draft, but the focused pass forces you to tackle one problem at a time. 

Basically, the idea behind a focused edit pass is to go through your WIP with one goal in mind. Maybe it’s to authenticate dialogue, or expand on your setting, or fix a major plot hole, but whatever it is, you go through your WIP and fix that one problem, until whatever it is is cohesively worked out throughout the entirety of your WIP. 

For example, say you’re adding a character. Using the focused pass method, you would go through your WIP from beginning to end, adding all scenes, mentions and effects that character leaves, and you ignore all other problems while doing so. It isn’t until you’ve fully integrated the new character into your WIP that you move on to the next problem—and again, you focus solely on the new issue. 

Ideally, I recommend starting with the most difficult fix and moving on from there, because once you’ve fixed the big problems, everything else will feel easier in comparison. 

So far, I’ve found that isolating the issues and focusing on them one at a time has allowed me to handle the issues without being overwhelmed. And when you’re neck-deep in edits, that can be quite a blessing. 

How do you handle your edits? Do you try to tackle everything chronologically, use passes, or another method? 

Twitter-sized bites:  
Do your edits leave you feeling overwhelmed? Here's a quick tip to help avoid writer burnout. (Click to tweet).  
Is your list of needed edits enormous? Here's how editing in passes helps one writer keep focused. (Click to tweet)


Emily said...

I actually did this for a while on my NaNoWriMo MS from last year. It works SUPER well! I cut some characters here, added some there, changed the second half of the plot...thanks for reminding me of this awesome way to edit!

Laura Rueckert said...

I work in a similar way. If I need to add a character or specific storyline or fix one problem, then I do that throughout the ms first.

To avoid stopping my flow while I write, any time I don't know how to write a portion, I put an asterisk with comments in all caps like *DESCRIBE CAMPSITE. This especially happens with visual descriptions since I'm terrible at them. But it could just was well be *SETTING? or *AWKWARD (meaning the passage felt terrible while I wrote it).

Once I think the basic story is ok, I first search for all the " * " and fix them. After that, I do a series of read throughs where I line edit as I go. I usually do it once online, once with a printout and a final time where I read it all out loud.

What I've never done is look only at dialogue, then only at setting, then only at character descriptions, then only verbs, etc, but I've heard that suggested too.

My current WIP has two POVs, so I'll probably also read all sections from one POV and then the other to be sure the voice is ok throughout each.

Ava Jae said...

Sure thing, Emily! It's a great method for tackling the edit list without getting overwhelmed. :)

Ava Jae said...

I do a similar thing with names or specific words while I'm first drafting, so if I can't remember someone's name or I can't think of a new name for a minor character or something of the like, I'll put (Doctor) or something like that to go back and fix later on. As you said, it's not worth stopping the flow to think of something minor.

I've never done a pass with verbs, but I know I did a character/dialogue pass with an earlier WIP—something that I think would probably be a good idea to revisit. There are so many options for editing passes, and I think it works well regardless of how you employ it, as long as you focus on one problem at a time.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Laura!

Melissa Maygrove said...

I've never gotten a WIP completely ready for publishing, so I'm still refining my editing process. I'm currently compiling a list of usage errors I'm prone to as well as other editing tips to keep me focused when I edit.

When writing the first draft, I try to the best job I can so I don't have a ton of things to fix later. After writing a scene, I go back over it for a read-through to (roughly) polish it, then I move on. I try very hard not to let myself get sucked into editing loops, going over the work again and again. That way, when I go back to edit and polish the ms, I'll have had some time away from the work.

Once I get crits and began processing them, I handle plot and character issues first (and any PUGS errors my CPs caught), then go back to do a fine polish of the prose.

I found this post very helpful. Tweeting it... :)

Ava Jae said...

Glad you found it helpful, Melissa! Thanks for the tweet. :)

Your after-crit process sounds somewhat similar to mine. I've found that generally, it's best to handle the biggest issues first (plot, character, etc.), then move onto smaller issues as you go along. If you do it backwards, you risk spending a lot of time line-editing something that may eventually be cut or rewritten entirely later on in the editing process. And the nice thing about working in passes is that it allows you to focus while you're working on any one of those elements.

Mike Young said...

I just finished going through my novel for the fifth editing passes. Now it heads of to copy ediitor and proofreader.
I did NOT have a very good plan for this, my first novel.
I did the first draft in NaNoWriMo - before learning about structuring. The first edit pass was then just to shuffle around scenes and boost some areas for a three act structure, with various plot points.
Then my editor/publisher looked at it, and made a number of high level suggestions for me to incorporate in second pass. Beta readers got third pass version, and had a number of good suggestions. Editor got the fourth one, and had both high-level and proofreader corrections. Final fifth one completed this weekend.
In hindsight - too many sets of high level feedback. And - in spite of my request for that sort of focus - a lot of corrections for typos and punctuation.
I like your suggestion of checking various items one at a time, such as plot holes, then action scenes, then characters, etc.
Next book I will do that and polish it as much as I can before showing it to Beta readers and my editor.

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Mike! Sounds like your WIP has been through the editing trenches—what a great learning experience! I do understand what you mean about getting typo/grammar corrections when you're looking for a different focus—hazards of editing feedback, I suppose. It can be tough for the editorially-inclined to ignore typos and grammatical errors.

Checking one element at a time is a great method for self-editing, and I wish you all the best with your future edits!

Aneeqah @ My Not So Real Life said...

I actually love this idea, and will have to employ it when I get to the editing stage. Right now, I feel like I'm in that endless writing stage, so I just have to put my BIC and churn out that draft. ;) I'm favoriting this post though, since it's such a good idea. I so easily get swamped with the massive amounts of issues when I'm editing/revising, so this will definitely help me isolate the issues and take things one step at a time.

Thanks for sharing, Ava! <3

Ava Jae said...

Sure thing, Aneeqah! Glad to hear that you think the post will help, and I wish you all the best with your first draft! :)

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