It’s been nearly a week since I finished editing the Pen boys, and since then, I’ve had a very relaxing handful of days. I finished editing on Friday, and I spent most of the weekend with my parents. I usually spend Saturdays with them, and this weekend was no exception, though my day was a little less than it usually is. Instead of going into Salem, I parked myself on the couch beneath a blanket and Penelope, and finished rereading Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. On Sunday, I watched a little TV, and then went back over to see them so that my dad and I could DIY my new headlights. I found a 9 minute tutorial on YouTube on how to change the entire thing, not just the bulb, and though peeling back a bit of my bumper was a little scary, we managed to successfully change out both of them.
Sadly, I’ve been pretty busy during the week, though. I feel like I haven’t spent quality time with my cats in a few weeks, and they’ve definitely let me know that they’re upset about this. After going to yoga on Monday, and then teaching on Tuesday for two hours, I was planning on going straight home on Wednesday, but had some last minute errands to run, and ended up home late again. Thankfully, though, I have tomorrow off, and my plan is to spend the entire day with them. And truthfully, I will actually spend it with them. Whenever I’m home, they follow me around the house and sleep in whatever room I’m currently in. The plan, then, is to either be in bed or on the couch, haha. Season 4 of Peaky Blinders just came out, so I am binge watching the entire series all weekend.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading since Friday, too. I just finished See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng, which I cannot wait to share my review for, and I’m about to embark on the last of the astronaut biographies that I have, as well as Shadows of the Dark Crystal finally. I pretended, on Sunday, that I was going to start editing Alex the Destroyer, and that just didn’t happen. I think I’ll probably start it next week, but I’ve really been enjoying this down time.
But, I’ve finally just kind of accepted this limbo that I’m in, and I’m enjoying the books I’m reading instead of ignoring them to write, so I thought now might be a fun time to talk about editing. As a quick disclaimer, of course, my editing process is specific to me. If your editing process looks different, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong, it just means you’ve found the right way to do it for you. I am hopeful that by detailing mine a little will help those who are unsure how to edit or where to begin. And so, without further ado, here we go!
First, and most important, I’m going to reference a post I wrote last month about critique partners. This, for me, has been the biggest part of my editing process. Quite frankly, I think trying to edit your own novel without anyone else looking at it first is just not going to work well. I love the Pen boys. Like, an exorbitant amount. I am so blind to its flaws, and I honestly think it’s just top freaking notch. I know, in the rational side of my brain, that it does have flaws, and that it does need work, but when I thought about diving back into it by myself, I knew that it was never going to work. Thus, after I finished writing it, I started looking for people to read it. The story of how I met each of my critique partners and how we came to be partners for each other is in that post, so I won’t rehash it here, but they have been instrumental in the editing process for the Pen boys.
Now, when I finished writing, the first thing I did was immediately walk away from it. This is a completely personal decision, and if you work better writing and then editing, go for it. For me, though, I work better writing and then running away. Which is not always conducive to a productive environment, but I’ve found that if I hurl a story out of my dreams, I need to take a hot second–translation: several months–to just be somewhere else. Whether this means I’m reading a ton or writing a ton doesn’t matter as long as I’m not still looking at the story.
For many, many years, this was not the case. I worked on nothing but Ronan for eleven years, focused all of my writing, reading, and editing attention on him, and was pretty firmly stuck for those eleven years. Now, I’ve come to understand that the best way for me to work is to write a novel, and then write a different one instead of working on that one. And it works! After I wrote the Pen boys, I finished writing Alex, wrote Saints, and then finally looped back around to the Pen boys. It’s only been four months since I finished writing it, so I think this isn’t too bad.
But, in those four months, I handed it off to Patrick and Chelsea, and told them to do their worst. I wanted to know every single thought they had, good or bad. I adore constructive criticism. I’m going to repeat that phrase with emphasis–constructive criticism. My first, and for a long time only, reader usually just gave me criticism. He would cross out whole paragraphs with absolutely no reason behind, say he didn’t like things but didn’t say why, and just generally wasn’t very helpful when it came to editing. Patrick and Chelsea are amazing, let me tell you. Every single one of their comments is well thought out, and always explains why they’re feeling that way. When one of them isn’t sure about a scene, they tell me why they’re unsure, or maybe how it could be fixed. One of the big things I asked of them, too, was to point out things that could be axed entirely, that weren’t adding to the overall story. The Pen boys was 188k when I gave it to them, and I wanted to get rid of at least 50k words to make it a more reasonable length.
So, they got to work. They haven’t quite finished it yet, but when I finally surfaced from Saints, they were about halfway done, so I decided to dive in. I had the novel printed–double sided, this thing is 600+ pages, it’s obnoxious–grabbed a pencil, a red pen, and a blue pen, and started editing.
First were my edits. I edited five chapters at a time, working on removing extraneous words, sentences, whole scenes if it felt right, changing all confusing pronouns to names, fixing subplots, tightening up weak scenes, getting rid of unnecessary vagueness and just explaining things straight out, and generally crafting a new version of the story.
Second were Patrick and Chelsea’s edits. And this is a thing that I believe should be true for every writer–your critique partner’s edits are not set in permanent ink. Just because someone tells you to do something with a scene doesn’t mean you have to. I mean, you probably should because there’s a reason they’re saying something, but I will admit that there were some, though not a lot, edits that I did not utilize in the second draft. These were few and far between, and some were because of things that would either happen later in the story or in a sequel. After I’d read and edited on my own, though, I went back to those five chapters to plug in Patrick and Chelsea’s edits.
Suffice to say, that first half of the novel is edited a lot more than the second half. Most of the word cutting was done in the first half, and while I did change some things in the second half, I know that I’ll go back again after they’ve finished reading and editing.
But what, you might be asking, does this actually look like?
A freaking mess is what it looks like.
Not all of the pages look like that, but some key scenes do. This page, in particular, was mostly rewritten. Whatever isn’t squiggled out, I saved, though that wasn’t a lot with this scene. Sometimes, I was just rewriting dialogue tags, but sometimes I was rewriting whole paragraphs.
Honestly, some pages just have pronoun changes on it. Some pages are mostly intact but for a paragraph or two reworked. Some pages, I had paragraphs circled and numbered to reorder when rewritten. Some chapters, I just wrote “no” or “bye”–or, once, “oh sad but goodbye”–at the top, though that only happened six times in total.
Editing looks different on every page. Sometimes, you’re just going to have to scrap something entirely and start over. Sometimes, what you had in the first place is solid, and just needs a few tweaks. Sometimes, it’s right down the middle, and you’re able to salvage some of it, but not all of it, and what is salvaged needs a little love, too.
I love editing. It’s fun to deconstruct the novel, to break apart all the pieces and put the puzzle back together again. It’s a bit of a headache sometimes, if I’m honest. Some chapters were a total breeze. One chapter, and I think it might be this one, took me hours to rewrite and rework. But, in the end, I have a novel that makes more sense, has finely honed edges, and is actually a pretty good representation of my writing now. Editing the Pen boys has also got me excited about the series again, and has me wanting to work on their first summer novella. Not sure if that will actually happen, but it’s like I was reborn into the world and given fresh eyes.
And though this was what editing looked like for the Pen boys, it’s not what it will look like for Saints or for Alex.
Alex will be edited, in its entirety, by me before anyone else. It’s probably the last of the stories I’ll hand to my critique partners to look at, and there’s a multitude of reasons for that that I’m not really ready to explain. Alex is me, and I’m afraid to part with him. We’ll leave it at that. But for him, I already have it printed out–only 300+ double sided pages this time–I only have my pencil, and I’ve got my punk rock music.
For Saints–well, I’m not quite sure what that will look like. In my eyes right now, Saints is in really good shape. I know I said that I was blind to the Pen boys, and I was, but I could look at them and see that they needed work. I’m sure Saints does, but when I look at it with my rational brain, it doesn’t look like a lot. I didn’t get carried away with Saints like I did with the Pen boys, so we’ll see what happens with that. Either way, it’s going to be different because Jen has it right now before anyone else, and I’ll likely edit it before Patrick and Chelsea get it.
Editing the Pen boys was an exhausting adventure, though. I had fun, and a lot happened, but I think I did it too fast. I gave myself a goal of three weeks to finish it, and ended up doing it in ten days. I wish I’d gone slower, let myself take time to unravel things, and not done it in every possible waking hour. At the end of it, I needed a break not because I’ve been go go go for so long this year, but because I burnt myself at both ends of the candle editing the Pen boys.
So, if you’re going to walk away from this with only once piece of advice, it’s this–go slow, and be different.