There are some who are lucky enough to write a novel and make it beautiful in two or three drafts. (Secretly, I loathe them. Why can’t I do that?!) Most of us, on the other hand, spend months and months, sometimes years, perfecting our works. By the time we’ve seen that story seven or eight or twenty times, not only are we too close to the story, but we may even hate it a little. How do we push through the weariness, bleariness, and general over-saturated brain fuzzies? Well, I like to:
Assign Parts, Read Aloud—Without doubt there is someone in your life who loves you (or at the very least is bribable), who will gladly practice reading troublesome scenes aloud with you. If that doesn’t work, read aloud and record your own voice. You’re bound to hear stilted, unnatural dialogue, pacing issues, and clunky phrasing.
Edit Chapters Out of Order—This is my favorite trick. Once I’ve swept through my story a hundred times, not only am I tired of it, but my eyes glaze over and I tend to anticipate the chain of events ahead rather than focusing on an aspect that needs fine-tuning. Reading chapters out of order prevents you from being swept away in the storyline. It gives you a new perspective—as if you’ve been dropped into the middle of the scene. To take this a step further, print out each chapter at a time. Reading type in ink really makes issues jump out from the page.
Read Other Books—When I’m frustrated and disgusted and fed up with my manuscript, the best cure is to read someone else’s beautifully crafted, or at least, highly entertaining novel. It takes me away, out of my head and into another realm. All of that research that says reading is directly correlated to writing skills is TRUE. You may find inspiration in someone else’s pages, or gain insight as to how to solve a craft issue. You may just be taking a much needed break. Don’t say you don’t have time. MAKE TIME. Reading fiction is the single most important way you can do to improve your craft.
Edit With Specifics in Mind—If you’re looking for one thing at a time, you’re more likely to narrow down an issue. Global edits are tough—it’s difficult to pinpoint smaller issues—and sets you up for failure. The character’s arc is weak? Buzz through the manuscript and highlight the exact moments the character changes. There should be a steady progression so that when the big finale comes in the end, there’s a WABAM climax moment of clarity/change in perspective/ shift in behavior. Perhaps the voice isn’t as strong as it can be. This is a perfect time to read your pages aloud. Hearing the characters thoughts and feelings fill a room can really help you get a grip on who that character is and what they should sound like.
Solicit a New, Strong Reader—Sometimes all you need is a fresh take from someone who knows nothing about the project. They may be able to point out exactly what’s missing or needs attention.
Let it Rest—This is by far the best idea and the advice you will hear most often. But it works. Distance makes the heart grow fonder and the vision clearer and all that. Take a breather. Let the elements of the story soak into your brain and stew in their magical way. You’ll come back to your manuscript a little calmer, less likely to set it on fire, and with a clearer idea of where you need to take it. If you’re under deadline this is much harder, but stepping away for even a day and doing something you love to fill the well can be incredibly useful.
None of those work for you? Take out your stick out and BEAT IT INTO SUBMISSION. You can do this. You WILL do this. You are not a whiner, or a quitter, or a talentless hack. Now get to work on that manuscript! Shine it up and make me proud.
How do you approach a book you’re sick to death of editing?