October 5th, 2016

How I Edited 1200 Pages in 12 Weeks

First, I am not crazy. Well, not that way.

I’ve finished four manuscripts; all have finaled or won in several contests. I’ve sent out a dozen queries, maybe more, thanks to Laura Drake. The two books I thought were most salable, have been requested and sent to a handful of agents and editors in New York.

In June, I woke up one morning and asked, “What are you waiting for?” Just like that, I boarded the self-publishing train, taking the first steps necessary to set myself up for success.

  • I contacted a freelance editor who I met at RWA San Antonio two years ago. While I listened to Tiffany Yates Martin’s presentation at that conference I thought, “If I ever get a chance to work with this woman, I’m grabbing it.” I sent her eight pages from the middle of the book I decided would be a good “starter.” This gave her a chance to see if she wanted to work with me, and the edits she sent back were my opportunity to see if I wanted to work with her. I called Laura Drake and read some of Tiffany’s comments. Laura’s response: “She’s got your number in just eight pages!” Needless to say, I signed a contract with Tiffany. Best move ever!
  • Now that I had my money on the line, I jumped all in. Those of you who know me, know that when I commit to something, I am laser-focused. I knew I needed to make time for this new “job,” but how could I guarantee my usual daily activities wouldn’t be the time sumps they could become? This may be extreme for some of you, but I disconnected my cable TV. I returned the box to the company. (Don’t gasp for air. I’d been threatening to do this every time their rates went up.) I gave away my not-smart TV.
  • Electronic games can suck down the better part of the evening if I get hooked in. I put my shiny games in a folder and tucked it deep in my hard drive. There are no games on my lap top. I left only one game, my favorite, on my phone. Since my phone is not my device of choice, I knew I wouldn’t play more than fifteen minutes at a time.

I began cutting words from the book I was sending to Tiffany, due August 1, leisurely cutting and working a couple of hours a day. When Laura came home with me from RWA San Diego, I mentioned that I wasn’t sure if I’d get through the manuscript in time. Here’s what has turned out to be the most important step for me.

  • Look at the full body of work you have to complete. Count the number of days you have to complete it. Do the math to figure out what must be done every day. In your calculations, give yourself a day or two off for emergencies.I subtracted ten percent of the days until my due date and used that as my “number of days.” Here’s my calculation: I had 22 calendar days, but I subtracted three for emergencies and day off, so I had 19 work days. 380 pages ÷19= 20 pages per day. Here’s the formula: Number of pages ÷ Number of work days= How many pages you must finish per day 
  • Keep to the schedule. Yep. Period.
  • Work whenever you have a chance. Fifteen minutes six time during the day takes off an hour-and-a-half that night. I worked while I waited for people to arrive at my house. I worked for ten minutes before I left to exercise with the trainer. I’d never sat down to write without at least a one-hour block of time before.

paper-71543_1280I had to get through twenty pages every day to finish. Luckily, I was only cleaning up verbiage and cutting words (I had nine thousand words to cut!), so I knew I could do it. There were nights I didn’t finish until midnight. Sometimes it was two a.m. But I knew if I didn’t finish “my allotment,” I would have even more to do the next day, and that might roll over, too.  Then I’d have this huge  word boulder chasing me down revision mountain. It only took two consecutive two a.m. mornings to get me to start working throughout the day.

Here’s the part where you can nod and say, yep, Fae’s a little crazy. During the word-cutting revisions for Keeping Athena, I decided I wanted to do the same thing for PRISM, my YA that was promised to a publisher on, you guessed it, August 1. I recalculated my page count for six less days (now I had to finish twenty-seven pages a day), and finished Keeping Athena a week early. I took a day off. I figured out that I needed to go through seventy-six (!) pages a day to meet my goal for PRISM. Luckily, it was the last book I’ve finished, so it was in better initial shape. And I had a routine down. All I had to do was cut words to streamline it. Since I had no goal for the number of words to cut, it went faster. Five-and-a-half days later, I sent it to the publisher.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Your words are not cast in cement. Even when you think they are as good as you can make them, you can improve the flow, the emotional impact, the sensory details—all while cutting “the fluff.” Phrases like “He began to run…” become “He ran…” and you’ve axed two words.
  • Save deleted paragraphs and scenes for use in promo material or another book. I had a wonderful beach scene that did little but provide warm fuzzies. Probably a reader would skim it. They won’t have that opportunity, because I cut it. But I can resurrect it in another form, so I’m okay with the cut.
  • I can do this. Again, I can do this. Maybe because, deep down, I wasn’t sure of myself, I didn’t consider self-pubbing or query more.
  • I enjoy doing this. Who knew that “hard scheduling” my time with friends, having to say no to a few invitations, would provide the satisfaction of achievement that came from sticking to a very tight regimen. I even read a book a week during the twelve weeks. I haven’t done that for ages.

Tomorrow I’m starting my first round of edits to the sequel of Keeping Athena. I have three weeks while Tiffany does a second pass through Keeping Athena. Why not get the next book in shape to send her? A secret—yesterday I took the day off from writing. I didn’t know what to do with myself; the day was so long. I pulled out the chapter print outs for the next book and put them in order. This one’s going to be a lot tougher than the first two. I haven’t looked at it for six years, and I’m swapping out the son of the couple in Keeping Athena for Athena’s brother, so there will be some re-writing. Bonus: When doing the editorial revisions that Tiffany returned, I got a slam-bang idea for the third book in the series. When I get through all these revisions, I can’t wait to start it!

Next month I’ll share the writing and editing tips I learned from the first round of editorial revisions Tiffany suggested.

Do you have tips to share about getting ready for a revision marathon? What works best for you?

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About Fae

Fae RowenFae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak.   Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present.  As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.

Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.

A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.

When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com  or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen.

Photo credits: Pixabay

36 comments to How I Edited 1200 Pages in 12 Weeks

  • Editing is a slow and laborious process, I am sure.
    Question: While you edit…do you read the manuscript in a different way?
    Are you looking for more than repetitions, questionable punctuation?

    • Fae Rowen

      Good questions, N@ncy. The first time for each of the two books, I read with an eye to “weeding out repetitions” and cutting extra words before I sent one to Tiffany and the other to the publisher. I’m pretty good with punctuation and grammar. Thank you, high school English teachers!

      After I received Tiffany’s “developmental” suggestions, I did a second pass through KEEPING ATHENA, adding emotion mostly, though I also had to cut words, since she suggested I cut five thousand more words. I’d cut nine thousand before I sent it to her, so I looked for scenes that weren’t doing “double duty,” took the important components, and adding those components into neighboring scenes. That’s the “kill your darlings” part of editing. But I saved them in a cut-scene file for promo use.

      In adding emotion and “off camera/missed opportunity” scenes I added twenty thousand new words to the MS. Here at WITS I’m known for making my characters’ emotions a mystery, so I had a lot of work in that arena. Yep, my Achilles’ heel. I love plot, not getting into those sticky, “irrational” feelings. I sent my revisions to Tiffany late Friday night for her second pass. I’m “cleaning up” my third book while I wait.

    • Orly Konig Lopez

      N@Ncy, I do several reads when I’m editing. First, I save the ms as a pdf and send it to my iPad where I read it in the iBooks app. The reason I do pdf is because it gives me the sense of reading it as an actual ebook rather than a word document/manuscript. I take notes such as “need more description on page 54,” “what the hell was I thinking with dialogue on page 76,” “scene on page 234 is too similar to chapter 3,” etc. I’m reading it as I would any beta read.

      Then I go through a printed version with my notes, any notes from critique partners or other beta readers, and I insert sticky notes on the pages that need a new scene, add new chapter, move something elsewhere, enhance this, delete that. You get it. THEN, I read it again in hard copy and start making changes as I’m reading.

      Rince, repeat. Each edit though, I look for slightly different things. For example, after the big edit, I’ll do a search and highlight on words that jumped out to me during the beta read as my crutch words. I’ll search and highlight the various facial ticks or body movements I toss into early drafts. I’ll search and destroy “that,” “as,” “suddenly” … etc.

      The last read is then another beta read to make sure I haven’t introduced mistakes during the revision process.

  • I always KNEW you could do it! Just so happy you now believe you could, and took the steps to make it happen!!!!

  • Just yesterday I was given the same advice–count the number of pages and divide by the number of days left. I’m thinking maybe I should heed that sage advice. Thanks for bringing it home. My revised manuscript is due to Tiffany next month. She’s awesome, isn’t she?

  • This is an inspiring account of your tightly-focused work-spurt. Thanks for the specific details of how you managed your time and goals. I’ve recently taken on three mini-jobs, so I’m finding it necessary to schedule blocks of time for writing/editing, something I haven’t had to do for a while. Hearing about your plan is very helpful.

    • Fae Rowen

      I’m glad you got some ideas, Rhonda. It’s amazing that when you are extra busy and organized, more time materializes. I was able to do everything I normally do during a week–teach, workout, cook–but I didn’t waste time on anytime.

  • Orly Konig Lopez

    Love your lessons learned! I have a file of “discarded scenes.” Personally, I love the revision process (I know this makes Laura break out in hives).

    YAY you!!!! I’m so happy to read this post. 🙂

    • I’m a hives girl too. Unfortunately, unlike Laura, I write in a way that requires major revision and smoothing. *gulp*

    • Fae Rowen

      When I first read that you love revising, Orly, I thought, “That is one crazy girl!” But now, I kind of get it. The book was so much better after my initial revisit. And trust me, I’ve revisited that book more times than I want to admit! After revising the second time with Tiffany’s suggestions, it’s even better.

  • Wow, I’m impressed and amazed. Thanks so much for sharing your process with all of us! 🙂

    • Fae Rowen

      Thanks, Shannon, but there’s nothing to be impressed about. Some people are focused every single day. It took me awhile to get there. Now, ripping out the cable cords and giving my TV away–sometimes I still can’t believe I did that!

  • I’m so glad you said you set yourself up for success by contacting a free-lance editor. I’ve hopefully done the same thing. In May I contracted with an editor and started the final edits on my WIP and thought I would self-publish in late June, early July. The ms. has lost weight one word, one paragraph, one scene at a time. Repetitive words have been hunted down like hidden calories in low-fat ice cream. I’ve found that sometimes replacing overused words results in more words to show a characters emotion rather than saying she’s afraid, scared or frightened. Then it’s back to the goal of keeping the weight off, cutting words elsewhere. Patience is my mantra. I’m not as disciplined as you are, but determined to get my story out in the best form it can be.

    • Fae Rowen

      I’m with you, Lori. Congrats on working with an editor! I want my book to be the absolute best I can make it. Tiffany is doing a three-pass edit with me, so I have two more rounds of suggestions from her. I doubt the second round will be easier than the first. It will be different, but all the revisions are like the ultimate makeover, aren’t they?

  • Celia Lewis

    Inspiring! And very helpful as well – thanks for the details of your process in editing, Fae. As for the 6 year-old story that needs more work – I have several of those that shouldn’t see the light of day until I learn to write/edit cleaner and tighter! Cheers on your accomplishments. As for math – I totally loved algebra (but struggled with numbers since I twist them around); I looked on algebraic equations as if they were fancy grammar puzzles. Now back to chopping and tightening, particularly with those messy emotions.

    • Fae Rowen

      Thanks for your kind words, Celia. Luckily I saved the contest score sheets for it, so I could re-read the judges’ comments now that I know so much more than I did then. It was fun to see what they liked and what they thought needed to be improved. And now I know how to do that!

  • Robert Doucette

    When is a draft ready for revising and then editing. Writing my first rough draft I deliberately left some gaps – insert setting information, characters go from A to B describe?, etc.. Should I continue rewriting and filling in these sections or stop everything and look at the draft as a whole to determine if scenes should be cut, added, rearranged?

    Always good to read advice from the StormWriters.

    • Fae Rowen

      Everyone’s writing process is different, Robert, so I’d say do what works for you. But that isn’t really very helpful, is it? I’m a pantser; I don’t make an outline, character charts, or a settings catalog before I start writing. What I have is, typically, the first scene, the last scene and a solid sense of both of my main characters and their backstories–all without writing anything down. Tiffany suggested I make an “editorial map” of my book before I began the developmental edits. It ‘s like an outline, in any form you want, that shows the bones, the main occurrences, of the story. You’ll be able to see what needs fleshing out, where there are holes in your story. You can check that each scene moves forward character and plot and shows some goal, motivation, and/or conflict.

      I guess the short-form answer would be: Finish the book, then revise by taking several passes, concentrating on one major idea at a time. Good luck!

  • Linda Lee

    I’m happy you can accomplish that much that quickly, Fae. For me, it takes almost as long to revise as it does to write the first draft. I go over the manuscript numerous times, looking for different issues during each revision. If I can get through a few pages a day, I’m doing well. Haven’t found any shortcuts yet–but wish I could!

    • Fae Rowen

      I hear you, Linda. That’s what I’ve been doing, but when I decided to self-pub and started learning about how to be successful at it, I realized I’d have to put up three or four books in quick succession, not every six months or so. I decided to get three ready and work on the fourth while the first ones were released. That meant I had to make a time commitment, or it would be two more years before the first book went up. You are absolutely right. There are no shortcuts. But I write science fiction, military science fiction romance to be exact, and I am in jump drive mode. Ha!

  • Thanks for sharing your process, Fae! I also break down my writing projects into pages per day, but right now I have a self-imposed deadline that can allow me to move the goal post too easily. Perhaps I need to engage an editor who will need my story by a set date. Something to definitely think about.

    • Fae Rowen

      You’re right, Barb. That was my problem, too. Since I was “the boss,” I could change due dates too easily when something better came up to spend my time on. Having that August 1 hard date for two different books choke-chained me, even though both books were finished with multiple revisions. Best thing that could have happened.

  • Excellent post on the job of a writer – (1) writing (2) revising (3) realizing we need a professional set of eyes to help (4) writing (5) revising.
    Or, as a reader above says, Rinse, Repeat. 🙂
    Thanks – you really inspired me to work more 15 minute writing rounds in my day.

  • Fae Rowen

    It’s amazing how much time you can pick up with small chunks throughout the day. There were many days when I said down to “my new job” that I was already half-done with the day’s assignment. Thanks for the great summary of the post, roughwighting!

  • Yay for you getting organized and determined to FINISH! It must feel extremely satisfying. Congrats, Fae!

    • Fae Rowen

      Thanks, Debbie. I do feel a little like, Yes! I really did it! Of course, there’s still a lot to do with more passes and two more finished books to go through the same process. But if I can do it once, I can do it again.

  • Just the inspiring words I needed 🙂 Thanks for sharing and congrats on keeping to the new regimen.

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