Last week I turned in what I hope is the last major revision of Sword and Verse. The file name said “Draft 3”, but this is misleading; the book has actually been through at least ten major rounds of revision, first me working individually, then with betareaders, then with my agent, and finally with my editor (though my peerless betareaders, most notably the amazingly dedicated Manuela Bernardi, have been involved in every round too).
I can say with all confidence that this book has gotten better with every iteration. I know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – no doubt some people will hate it, and even more will be indifferent to it – but I know that in its current state it is the most true version of the story I want to put out into the world.
My writing process has always been to write massive quantities and then trim and shape upon subsequent revisions. I have great admiration for writers who create an outline and follow it, and I truly wish I could work that way – it has enormous appeal for my Type A personality. But the characters and relationships always show up first in my stories, and then the plot sprawls out from there, sometimes not really revealing itself until several drafts in. Which leads to some really loooong early drafts.
Fortunately, I write fantasy, so longer stories are okay…but I still routinely have to cut thousands of words before I turn in a draft. That’s why, once I do all the structural revisions and deal with the line edit suggestions, I go back and do a micro-edit – I make each and every word defend its right to be there. I set a target word count, figure out how many words I need to cut per page, and then keep a running total as I edit. Each day when I start working again, I go back over the previous day’s work, and it always amazes me how many more words and sentences can be cut the next day.
The key is the journal keeping – it’s accountability. If I see the number I need to get to by the end of page right there in black and white, it’s harder to justify moving on until I reach that goal. In this latest round of microediting, I decided to let my Type A personality run wild, and made a spreadsheet checklist. I mean, why do something without a spreadsheet when you could do something WITH a spreadsheet?
The great part about this spreadsheet is that you can use it with any writing project – simply fill in your current and target wordcounts and the starting number of pages in the yellow boxes, and the sheet automatically calculates how many words you need to cut per page and fills in the target word count for the end of each page of editing. Then you can print it out and check off each micro-goal as you go. (You may also want to allow yourself a cookie for each check mark. I won’t judge.) I figured that there are probably other writers out there who might be interested, so here’s my spreadsheet (in Microsoft Excel) for your downloading convenience:
Here are some other great articles about micro-editing:
7 Key Elements of Micro-editing by Laura Hale Brockway
Micro-editing Your Work by John Davidson