You know, a lot of people talk about the pains of writing a book. The hours of hammering away on the keyboard, the plotting of the world, the developing subplot buried in the plot that you really didn’t mean to have happen but oh it’s so nice to see it work… writing is a challenge, and it’s why events of NaNoWriMo are lauded as a good “check” for aspiring authors. It keeps them writing, which is muy importante.

You know what else is just as important, but not nearly as “cheered on” by the masses? Editing. Yes, that soul-sucking, life crushing time after you’ve completed the novel and you have to go back to the very beginning and ensure that, not only are character names spelled correctly, but also that you have the right characters staying true to their nature. Continuity errors, incorrect phrasings, or just plain old bad English (‘murica) seem to plague your novel. Nobody celebrates that time when the writer begins to edit. More often than not, other writers shake their heads and say “Oh, that sucks.”

Why is that, though? Why do we get to have a NaNoWriMo and not a NaDecEdMo? Because NOBODY wants to be that butthead who is celebrating an author who is gutting their baby.

That’s what editing is, in a nutshell. It’s taking out that precious baby of yours and changing it, ruthlessly making it better. It’s a rough, rough time for an author when this is going on. The author is feeling insecure about their novel as is, and now they have to look at it with a critical eye. That cute scene that you really liked but now doesn’t really fit into the story as much? Gutted like a day old fish on Market Street. The romance you thought was budding and subtle? Ei! Hakkaa päälle!

I’m in the middle of editing Kraken Mare right now, and it’s rough. My coauthor and I wrapped up the novel just the other day and, instead of my usual waiting period of two weeks to begin the painful editing process, I decided to jump right into it. And right off the bat I’m finding stuff that is causing me to roll my eyes. It’s hard to admit, but some things in the beginning just don’t work. So… snip snip, as the doctor says to the new parents.

…I really need to work on my metaphors some more. Ouch.

There is a reason the author edits, though, instead of relying solely on that overworked and underpaid editor at the publisher’s office. One, it’s rather rude to try and force someone to decipher precisely what you were trying to say and do. Two, the editor doesn’t always know which direction the story is going while they’re trying to match the flow of it with the necessary continuity changes. I can see some poor editor banging their head on the desk, muttering “Jupiter or Saturn, you schmuck… Argh!”

In hindsight, I now understand why most editors who have been in the business for more than fifteen years are oftentimes hard drinkers.


  1. I do not gut my babies. They get braces on their teeth, and occasionally their legs. And they get sent out for lesson in elocution and table manners. Then I have to shell out for new clothes and shoes . . .

  2. I’m in the third edit of a novel, and have one on the way back from finishing school (copy and light style edit, heavy on the copy). I’ve chopped out chunks, added bits, and turned a whine-fest into something the character would actually do and say. Me brain hurts!

    OTOH it beats the re-writes I had to do for two non-fiction books.

  3. Yes, this is the part they don’t like to tell you about at Writer School. But effective editing can be the difference between OK and Great.

    1. *finish book at a sprint* Oh lordy, that last scene is trite. *rip out and replace last scene* Much better. (Okay, it was actually several large chunks like that, but I’m not kidding about trite.)

  4. It isn’t editing that’s horrible. It’s the discovery that gremlins got at your novel while it was sitting on the backburner, and eliminated your wonderful plot, your delightful characters, and your marvelous setting.

    That is, when you read what you wrote instead of what you imagined.

    1. ^^^ THIS ^^^

      I have an absolute policy of two weeks (more really, given my tendency to overload schedules) before I go into editing mode on something. Occasionally that lets me recover the scene as it was when it was rattling around in my head (sometimes, not always, sigh).

  5. Honestly, I like to leave it alone, for a while. Months, if I have the time. And then come at it when I have been able to distance myself from the whole thing.

    1. Yes, that’s what I like to do. Time lends perspective: “You know, on second thought, flamethrower-wielding cats are probably a little over the top.” Of course, I don’t always have that luxury.

  6. Not to be too picky, because editing/rewriting is a huge and important thing and I actually think most of this article is spot on, but NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month) is in fact a thing. It’s March, not December, for several reasons.

    First, because they recognize both that people who finished 50,000 words, the NaNoWriMo ‘winner’ condition, may not in fact have finished their whole manuscript, and it gives people time to do that. (I believe I finished my first NaNoWriMo novel in February, even though I finished 50k words in November with days to spare.)

    Second, because most people also need a break after finishing the novel to recover, especially as the pace NaNoWriMo sets is pretty gruelling. Having the creative energy to forge on is a good thing, and a lot of people find that after they’ve finished a manuscript, they have a number of outright blank days, with no writing energy left.

    Third, because even after regaining the creative energy, people often need a break after finishing the novel to gain an objective perspective on what they wrote and edit effectively. (If a writer has recovered their creative energy, the time between is often used to start a different project entirely.)

      1. It’s admittedly a lot smaller (It’s a separate group from NaNoWriMo) But NaNoWriMo is a juggernaut, so it may be an unfair comparison. NaNoWriMo itself, though, also has a lot of “what’s next?” seminar and suggestions, including webinars about revision, forums on revision and proofing, practice pitch sessions, and finding critiquers – not necessarily in that order. I mostly ended up ignoring both that and NaNoEdMo in favour of local friends and critiquers, which I suspect (without proof) is also true of a lot of others who are more serious about publication as a goal than the average NaNo writer is.

        I agree, all the glory and romance they push seems to be in the first draft. Part of the reason I know those things exist is because I care enough about the final result to look and see what revision options I have.

  7. I’m something of an anomaly (or maybe just crazy) because I *like* editing my novels. I like it so much I find it hard to stop. I could tinker the damned things forever and have great fun doing it. This is why, though I’ve been published in SF now for 42 years, I only have two novels out.

    Must do something about this.

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