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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

When Do You Edit: A Guest Post By Stephen L. Brayton

Today I am letting the super-talented author, Stephen L. Brayton, take over the Imaginarium. He is the author of Night Shadows, one wicked cool fantasy horror. His newest novel, Beta, drops this Saturday, Oct. 1. It's a mystery featuring one literal kick-butt private detective, Mallory Petersen. She's a fourth degree black belt in taekwondo, hence the picture of Stephen in his awesome dobok. He is a fifth degree black belt. So you know I'm already anticipating getting my copy. Oh, how I love my strong female protagonists. Take it away Stephen...

Katherine Hinkson, a writer friend, and I both agree editing is probably the worst tribulation about writing a manuscript. Certainly, it is the most tedious and frustrating. One of the reasons is because we are constantly finding mistakes, even after the third, fifteenth, and fiftieth read through. Then, when the publisher’s editor(s) get a hold of it, they’re finding even more. Plus, they’re coming back and mentioning not just the fundamental errors (grammar, spelling, punctuation), they’re noticing continuity and time mistakes among others. For instance, they’ll catch the misspelled word ‘fiend’ when you really meant ‘friend’. They’ll also notice you left the door open in a certain scene, yet your hero, upon leaving the room, opens the door and steps out.

My last book went through several editing phases and then, when I thought everything was kosher, the publisher came back with highlights on all the ‘were’, ‘was’, and ‘that’ words. I couldn’t believe how many I’d used, especially in what she called ‘clusters.’

I think the best way for you to recognize mistakes and problems in your own writing is to edit others’. During my short stint as an editor for Echelon Press, I edited several manuscripts and finding errors in those helped me find errors in my stories, even while I was currently writing them.

Another interesting method to learning editing is to take a random book, and start writing it. Open to page one, grab a pen and paper and start writing from the first word in the first chapter. By doing this, you’ll see what the author is doing, how he/she is using words and phrases, grammar and punctuation.

My second book, “Beta”, didn’t have as many problems, but only because I’ve been editing and rewriting it for nearly ten years. For those of you struggling with editing, I say, “Good for you.” Everyone should. However, we’re all in this together, so I’m not going to sit back and laugh and poke fun. Instead, I’d like to offer a few tips on how I edit. I’m not saying this is the correct way. It’s MY method and until I find a better one, (or someone offers me tips like I’m doing for you), I’ll stick with it.

For Beta, I wrote the first draft longhand. I used up a pen and several legal pads. Today, I write a few stories’ first drafts on the laptop. I prefer longhand because it is my first chance at editing. I can think faster than I can write. So ideas and descriptions and dialogue will form and stack up waiting their turn to be put down. Other scenes may intrude or details may come to mind for me to include elsewhere. Conversely, when using the laptop, I can type faster than I can think, so sometimes, I lose some of the ‘fine tuning’.

After a chapter or two, I’ll then type what I’ve written onto the computer. This is the next chance to edit. I’ll fix the fundamentals, and I may substitute words and sentences for others that sound better. Again, while typing, other ideas may present themselves, other scenes to include.

After I’ve typed in the entire manuscript, I”ll celebrate what I’ve accomplished. Then it’s back to the pen and pad for an initial read through, catching typos and jotting down questions for research or areas of concern. I’ll spend a period of time with corrections, then another read through. Somewhere in this process, even before completing the manuscript, I’m reading chapters or scenes to members of a critique group. I’ll jot down their concerns and suggestions, then when I’m correcting the read through, I’ll insert those as I see fit.

I’ve been trying to follow a course laid out by Todd Stone in his book “The Novelist Boot Camp”. He suggests looking at specific aspects of the story for each read through. Action, Dialogue, Sentence Structure, Setting, and others. I think this is a good guideline to follow. By focusing on specific areas you’re not as overwhelmed by trying to catch EVERYTHING on each round.

Even when I’d edited “Beta” many times, the critique group still had suggestions. I needed to tone down the brusqueness of my main character. Plus, they didn’t like the names for two of my male characters. After reviewing this, I agreed. So Jamie became Darren and Lauren was renamed Lawrence. I like them better.

Find your editing method. Get frustrated, but realize that with each correction, you are improving not only your story, but your writing as well.

To find out more about Stephen and his works,please visit:
Stephen Brayton.com, his website
Brayton's Briefs, his blog
Brayton's Book Buzz, his book blog


  1. This was a terrific post, Stephen. Some helpful info for me as I set about doing some edits for one of my stories. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed taking over today. :)

  2. nice one, you two! Lots of useful info for our dear writers!

  3. I agree with Dezmond, lots of useful information. And the end is good in that it reminds me to keep my head up and keep working.

  4. @Dez Thank you, sweetie. I think Stephen gave some great advice and I love to be able to share it with fellow writers out there.

    @Angela Keeping our heads up is one of the most important things we can do as writers. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  5. He writes like I do - longhand first and then enter it into the computer. (Although I wait until I'm done.) I write much faster than I type and can keep up with ideas better.
    However, the roughest part for me is that first draft. I enjoy the editing, because the basics are in place and I get to embellish and expand.

  6. I love writing longhand as well, but I have the opposite problem. I don't edit enough when I'm writing. If I'm typing, however, things tend to turn out better. I still like to handwrite all my outline notes and junk.

  7. I'm an acquisitions editor for Oak Tree Press. How important is it that a book is edited prior to submission? While we don't expect the manuscript to be perfect, my publisher is at a point where polished manuscripts get put into print earlier than a novel that needs extensive revisions. As a small indie press, we don't have the luxury of a line-editor. Editing takes time away from production and slows down our output of titles.

    At Oak Tree, we cannot afford to clog up the well-oiled machine that gets titles into print. So, as Stephen says, make sure your manuscript has been read over again and again, find a different set of eyes, read it aloud. Then submit knowing you have done your very best.

  8. Yes, edit yourself. Read it to friends - have your writing group read it. Again.

    But last - the line editor. I recommend finding a grammar teacher at the local college. Somebody really good. This goes for submissions, self-pub and online books as well.

    You cannot be your own line editor.

    At least, I can't.

  9. Thanks for all the comments. Writing styles and editing proceses are unique to each writer. Find what works. If it doesn't work, then try something else.

  10. Great advice - thank you Mr. B! And thank YOU, Ms. B!

  11. I find it so much easier to find mistakes in other people's writing than my own--it's a psychological thing I guess. If I don't catch the mistakes as I go then I often miss them later. Need more practice I guess.

    Tossing It Out

  12. Wonderful post Stephen, I think I need to go back to the basics again and write it out long hand for the first draft. I'm trying to find the fun in editing too...it's hard, but I am trying. Sunny suggested an editing book by Renne Browne and I attended a workshop for Revising Fiction by Kirt Hickman. The 8 hour workshop was one of the best workshops I've attended.

  13. Thanks Sunny and Stephen, I really needed this tonight. I was feeling frustrated, but now I see that I am not alone. Revisions are a pain, but I will keep revising until I have it right. And, I agree a new set of eyes will make a difference. Augie

  14. Stephen, just as you did when you wrote "Beta," I wrote the first draft of "Mixed Messages" longhand. I wrote a chapter and then keyed it into Word, rewriting each step of the way. I spent years working on "Mixed Messages." Several times, I set it aside and went back after a period of time to read it with fresh eyes. I have two friends who read in the mystery/suspense genre and, when I finally decided it was time, I asked them to give me their opinions. And then I rewrote some more. My problem wasn't that I didn't do enough editing; my problem was that, at some point, I had to realize that "Mixed Messages" was ready to submit and I had to move on to my second book.

  15. I'm deep in the editing dolldrums today. I feel like I've edited my manuscript to death - I'm sick of it - yet I keep finding "errors".! Is it possible to edit too much? ;-)

  16. @Alex I love having the first draft done, too. There's nothing like being able to play now that the initial story is out there.

    @Hannah Outlining and research in long hand is a must for me. It helps me feel a visceral connection to my stories and characters.

    @Sunny Thank you so very much stopping by and offering some very helpful insights. I appreciate it very much.

    @Dac That is some great advice about line editing. Thanks for sharing.

  17. @Stephen You got a really great discussion going here. This was a thought-provoking post.

    @Craig Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

    @Arlee I know what you mean. I do find it easier to help someone else with their edits rather do my own.

    @Kat Thanks for sharing the Renne Brown book. I'll definitely have to check it out.

  18. @Augie I'm so happy you found what needed here with Stephen's post. I wish you all the best with your story.

    @Patricia I hear you on knowing just when to submit and move forward. I think sometimes I fiddle too much. Best of luck to you.

    @Sylvia Oh I know how you feel. I think you need to maybe turn it over to a beta reader and see what another set of eyes will find. I had one story that I just did that with because I kept finding things. We definitely can edit too much. :) Good luck!

  19. Line editors don't come cheap,nor should they. I felt I couldn't afford a line edit job from professional editor friends and didn't want to exploit our friendship by trying to get a discount. I'll just pay the money next time. I edited my novel, read it backwards (literally--a good editing technique, as I'm sure you all know) and forwards. Still hella mucho typos. Not good.
    Clark Lohr--author: Devil's Kitchen.

  20. I have found book editors to be unfailingly helpful and constructive with their edits and comments. (Less so one or two magazine editors from my free- lance days, but that's another story.) I would be very uneasy if someone didn't edit my own work, whether manuscripts, or in my day job. As for editing my own work, I tell disbelieving students on school visits that I take great pleasure in it. It's like taking an aerial view of your story. Once it's complete, you can see with complete clarity what needs to be moved around or taken away; what copy edit mistakes need fixing.

  21. I think everyone edits in a different manner, and it also depends upon what kind of editing you are doing, e.g., looking for plot holes or sequence issues or weeding out those nasty little words like "just" and "that." I find there's nothing like reading the manuscript out loud.


  22. Yes, I found it very helpful to edit someone else, to find mistakes there so I can avoid them in my own.

    Yes, you can edit too much. When you're tired of it, you need to take a break and return with refreshed eyes.


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