I’ve worked on software development projects in the past. So, once I began writing, I fell back on the tricks of the trade to refine my work.
My writing process borrows from the Spiral development model. As an author, this permits me to power through an initial draft, and polish the work over several iterative cycles.
To guide progress, I track trends to measure success. The following section outlines improvements that were made over time for two (2) of my releases:
What’s with the yellow line? While others measure the number of revisions within a measurable area, the yellow line measures words between revisions. I.e., the more words you have in between the better.
Visually, the changes are more dramatic:
Again, the visual changes are more dramatic:
The Grand (2017) was written with little feedback. Without release pressures, there was plenty of time to refine. After the book was published, several changes were made to the manuscript to account for feedback in reviews.
Dark Hearts (2022) involved external feedback throughout which led to more work up front. Once I got near the one thousand (1000) revision count for the manuscript, I knew that it’s time to pass the work on to my editor.
The process is roughly four steps as follows:
Convert the manuscript into the format to be used for revision. While I convert the manuscript to an eBook, there are other methods available:
- Printing the manuscript.
- Modifying the manuscript styles to force yourself to view the content differently. For example, change the font, size, and colour.
- Use Text-to-Speech to read out the manuscript.
The goal is to avoid reviewing the document in the same way you’d write or edit. I often call this switching from content creation to reader mode.
The Great Pause
After my working copy is complete, I set the project aside and tackle something new. Tasks range from reading a novel to painting the house.
If you want to maintain momentum, you may want to consider:
- Working on cover.
- Working on the blurb.
- Preparing the website for the release.
- Preparing the marketing material. Or.
- Writing a newsletter to mark your progress.
This phase seeks to take your mind off the manuscript and approach the work with fresh eyes in the ensuing steps. This increases the chances of being objective when reviewing the manuscript.
A good example about this behaviour is an article on how the brain interprets words. Note how this paragraph is legible for many despite the spelling.
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
If your mind can read such garbled text. Imagine what it can do when intimately familiar with the text?
It’s entirely possible to edit too much. A good sign is when you’re skimming the material vice reading. If you become sick and tired of reading your own manuscript, it’s time to take a break and step away.
Feedback is critical for this process, otherwise our creation exists within a bubble. While challenging for new writers, engaging others is a good way to catch plot holes, or fill in the details that your readers will be looking for.
There are different types of feedback:
- Alpha Readers. Alpha readers are typically engaged during the writing phase. These should be trusted readers that you can bounce ideas off.
- Beta Readers. These readers are engaged later in the process, and for me that’s around revision 2 or 3. For new readers, it’s a good idea to provide them with a list of questions to work through.
- Editors. Editors here will focus on story structure and pacing who help you keep the reader engaged. Some editors may advise you that there could be significant structuring or restructuring of a manuscript, so engage them early.
I don’t recommend engaging a developmental editor without prior interaction. Many will do a sample for you, which is a great way to determine if the opportunity exists for a lasting working relationship.
This step is often concurrent with The Pause. This is an opportunity to distribute a working copy to readers in order to solicit input and opinions.
Revise and Implement
In this step, you’ll revise chapters, tweak, and make corrections to the content. This process is sometimes referred to as redlining and was traditionally done using pen and paper. The term also evokes memories of school papers dripping in red ink.
Tools like Grammarly and ProWritingAid are invaluable during this stage. They can help with your writing and even assist you in finding issues like inconsistencies in spelling, echoes (repeated sentences and lines), complex sentences, and so forth.
However, these programs are not perfect and should not be trusted blindly. It’s often possible to have the tool recommend you add a comma, only to recommend its removal the next time you run through.
I use a Kindle Keyboard which permits me to type in comments. These comments are annotations of changes that will need to be made to the manuscript later. Early revisions tend to generate lots of corrections, so I transcribe often to avoid data loss.
Over the cycles, the number of revisions drop in number and complexity. Whereas during the final cycle, I’m looking for things like elusive typos.
This stage also permits you to adjust chapters, including their order. You may opt to add, rewrite, split or remove chapters. Just like you would add, fix or remove features in a software project.
Start the process all over again. Create a new version of the manuscript, take a break, revise and implement. With every revision look at your metrics to measure progress.
Towards the end you’ll know when it’s ready. For me, that’s when I hit one thousand (1000) revisions for whole of the manuscript.
Revisions may have different goals. The first should be about adjusting the structure and detail, while later revisions concentrate on trimming the fat and finding those elusive typos.
A good way of staying focused is to track your progress. Otherwise, you’ll end up in an infinite loop. You have to find that point where the manuscript is ‘good enough‘ to be passed on.
After ‘Good Enough’
This is the stage where you hand off the manuscript to someone else for a sober second look. Primarily someone who will review the document for lingering errors. I use my editor for this step, but a trusted reader can help as well.
Alas there is no rest for the weary, as there’s still work to be done before release. This includes but is not limited to:
- Normalise your manuscript (editors often help with this step).
- Format your manuscript for print, and eBook.
- Integrate the cover with the manuscript.
- Release your book.
More on Editors
There are many types of editors. Here is a distinction between the types and when you should engage them in the process:
- Developmental. Major story and character points, early in the process, no line editing or proofreading.
- Substantive/Content Editors. Once you have a solid story, it’s time to catch lingering plot issues.
- Copy/Line Editors. Your story itself is solid, now it’s time to make the writing tighter, sharper, and stronger; improve the reading experience.
- Proofreaders. This is absolutely last step before you go to print, addressing only basic punctuation and grammar, but not touching the story or the writing style.
Some editors will perform one or several of these roles. In many cases, it’s prudent to get another editor for proofreading as a final check of the manuscript.