Currently, I’m working on three different writing processes at the same time. I’m writing the first draft of my next novel; I’m doing a heavy copy-edit on a manuscript-in-progress for a client, and I’m doing a substantive edit (I prefer the term analytical edit) on a finished manuscript for a different client.
Let’s look at the differences. In the novel draft I’m writing, I’m mostly concerned with getting the story-telling right, although I will rewrite awkward sentences and will go back to add or subtract from an earlier part of the novel if it no longer agrees with how the story evolves. But I’m certainly not trying to write a finished product – it will need a lot of work once the first draft is done.
The first client’s got a good story to tell, but he’s not a natural writer. Here, my job is about grammar, style, and flow. I rearrange sentences and paragraphs, cut things out, occasionally make suggestions about things to add. I change punctuation where needed. This time round we’re working together from the first chapter, so I’m also keeping track of things I’ll need to know for the next type of edit, the analytical edit.
The analytical edit, in my experience, is the most demanding. With the second client’s manuscript, which has been fairly well copy-edited, I’m mostly looking at it scene by scene, and, within the scenes, action by action. I weigh every sentence, and almost every word. Does the sentence matter? does it add anything to the action, the story, the mood? If not, it goes. Does the action within a scene contribute? “I turned my head to look at her,” tells me where the protagonist’s attention is. “I turned my head to look at her, picking up my sunglasses as I did,” may tell me the protagonist is eager to leave, so that her attention is divided (or many other things), but if the sunglasses have absolutely nothing to do with the scene or a later scene, out goes that phrase. At this point, I’m talking to the writer a lot – because those sunglasses might be important twenty chapters later, especially in a mystery novel.
At the same time, I’m analyzing for changes in value: if the protagonist is happy at the beginning, she should be in a different mood at the end of the scene. Conflict, even little changes of mood, is what keeps a reader interested. The conflict also needs to build progressively, peaking to a greater conflict, dropping down again (pacing), peaking again to a higher level, until the final crisis, the climax of the novel, is reached.
Meanwhile I’m also doing a next-to-final copy edit, because sometimes removing phrases and sentences requires that, keeping track of clues (it’s a mystery novel), and checking continuity. I use a lot of notes in an analytical edit!
The more I do this, the easier it is to write that first draft of my new novel. In part, it’s why I accept editing projects while I’m writing. I’m almost automatically checking my own writing as I write for many of these considerations. I seriously under-write in a first draft, adding emotion and sometimes description in the first re-write, adjusting the pacing, adding and subtracting, doing my own analytical edit on the manuscript.
I like editing almost as much as writing (and some days, more). There’s something deeply satisfying about working with another writer to bring out the best story they have it in themselves to tell. When the shoe is on the other foot, I thoroughly enjoy working with my editors, as they go through the same process with my manuscript. What we produce together is better than anything produced alone.