Editing – Smoothing the Cement

Trails in the Sand

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

This past week, I finished the edits on my third or fourth draft of my new novel Trails in the Sand. I sent it off to my editor, Kathleen Heady, so she can weave her magic on the manuscript. When she returns it, I’ll go through her suggestions and then ready it for publication. I want to thank Jae over at Lit and scribbles blog for suggesting I write this post. Check out her site – she’s always very clever and inspiring.

Most people who are not writers do not realize how little time is actually spent on the “writing” part of this gig. When I tell someone, “I’m writing today,” I could mean several things, but only about twenty percent of the time do I actually mean writing as they envision it.

However, when I’m editing my work, I’m still writing, and I love it. When I do a first draft of a novel, I liken it to pouring cement into a frame. When it’s first poured it does not resemble the finished product – it’s not smooth; it can’t be used; and it probably shouldn’t be seen by anyone.

It’s the next steps that bring it closer to a finished product – the smoothing of the cement, back and forth until it’s uniform, cohesive, and strong. That’s what editing is for me. Now as it goes through its final reviews, it’s curing and setting up. Soon enough I’ll know if it’s ready for public use.

During the process of editing, the book can change tremendously. I’ve changed point of view several times in this novel and now have alternating points of view between chapters. I’ve deepened the characters as I’ve gotten to know them better over the almost two years I’ve been creating this novel. They’ve changed and grown as the plot has also changed and developed. It’s all a process, which starts with the basic foundation of pouring the first load of “cement” upon the paper.

Everyone does it differently, but here’s the process I use for the smoothing of my cement.

  • When I know it’s time to go back over the manuscript for editing, I set aside a block of time to do it. It’s best to go through the book with few breaks. I can do 100-150 pages per day, if there aren’t any distractions (good luck with that!). Trails in 510 pages, so I was able to complete the edits in five days. But remember this is the final draft and the third or fourth time I’ve gone through the process.
  • I set goals for each day. One hundred pages is a worthy goal, but I found as I got into the process, I wanted to do more pages in one day. For me, setting that goal helps me stay on the task.
  • I print out pages, as wasteful as that may seem, but I’m helplessly old-fashioned this way. If you can do it all electronically that’s great (and I’d like to know any tricks for getting over this hard copy obsession I have). I read through the pages and mark them up, adding copy, deleting words, sections, making notes to check on later pages. Then I go to the electronic copy and begin making the changes from the hard copy. This process also means I’m reading the pages twice in one day.
  • I cut and paste throughout the whole writing process, so doing editing in one consecutive time block helps me find places where I might have misplaced or repeated sections. I’m looking for repetition, transitions, and gaps in the story. Also, I’m looking for inconsistencies in spelling and mechanics. I use the Chicago Manual of Style (and when in doubt Associated Press style) most of the time, but what’s most important is sticking to a particular style throughout. Decide how you’re going to handle numbers, abbreviations, and dates and stick with it throughout the manuscript. I had to decide on some spellings for this book. Microsoft Word uses “coalmine” and “oilrig” as one word. I don’t think these words have yet evolved to one word, and when I checked I found they can be used either way. I chose two words for each, and that’s the way (I hope) it is throughout the whole novel.
  • Doing the marathon session meant I was dreaming about my characters – which is good. I discovered I needed to increase the tension for one of the characters so I wrote a whole new scene where her shame is expressed, adding to the motivation for her despicable behavior toward her daughter.

That’s how I do it. And now I’m a little at loose ends because it’s over. But now it’s on to writing my one-sentence blurb and back-cover copy. Once that’s done (and edited), I’ll be ready to contact  cover artist Travis Pennington at ProBook Covers for his rendering of a vision I have in my head.

Do you like editing? How do you do it?

NOTE: I’m cutting back on my blog writing starting this week. I’ve been writing four blogs a week – two for Living Lightly Upon this Earth and two for Writing, Tips, Thoughts, and Whims. While I enjoy writing the blogs and interacting with followers, I need more time for writing novels and nonfiction books. From now on, I will post two times – one for each of my blogs. Thanks for reading my posts. I’m always thrilled when I see someone has left a comment.

10 responses to “Editing – Smoothing the Cement”

  1. I’m really glad you posted this. I think a lot of newbie writers think they write up one draft, fix a few grammar errors and that’s it. They don’t realize polishing is a lengthy process and should be.


  2. Regarding this:
    “Microsoft Word uses “coalmine” and “oilrig” as one word. I don’t think these words have yet evolved to one word, and when I checked I found they can be used either way. I chose two words for each, and that’s the way (I hope) it is throughout the whole novel.”

    It’s simple enough to make sure. Just do a find/replace for the one word and replace it with the two. Then you’ll know it’s the same through the entire book. 🙂 Enjoyed the blog!


  3. I remember when I first started writing I didn’t believe in editing – I thought the story I wrote was exactly as it should be, fresh from my brain. Ahh, memories…sometimes I miss those naive times. Years and years later, and I definitely agree with you – writing the first draft is only the very bare beginning.

    p.s. I have to print out my manuscript to do edits, too. There’s just something about having it there physically in front of you, pen in hand…


    • That is the curse of the beginning writer – we think what we write is gold. A successfully published author once told me if I was in love with a line or paragraph, it probably meant I needed to edit it. Thanks for stopping by.


  4. I LOVE the “pouring and smoothing of the cement” analogy! I always use the skeleton, then the ‘adding the meat’ etc., but yours is much better.

    I won’t lie…I find editing (a novel) confusing and I get lost sometimes. I do enjoy editing and ‘smoothing’ short pieces immensely.

    I am both envious and very, very happy for you having an editor to work with!

    A great post, P.C. !


    • It can get confusing during the initial revision process. I finally gave over this novel to my two beta readers when I couldn’t remember where I’d put certain scenes. I asked them to watch carefully for missed cues or repetitive scenes. It gets easier after that first go through.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: