Five Stages of Editing a Novel

Editing a novel is a thick fucking task, there are no buts about it. Anyone who says it’s easy is an asshole and/or a liar. If you’re working on your first draft, here are the stages you’ll go through, complete with tears, laughter, madness, and despair.

THE FIVE STAGES OF EDITING A NOVEL

1. Euphoria

Holy shit, I wrote a book! That’s what happens immediately after you type THE END, and it feels like fucking magic. Like you have lightning bolts coming out of your fingertips, and you are suddenly the figure in your imagination, churning out blessed words that people the world over will clamor to read, hear, and speak.

2. Panic

Holy shit, I wrote a book! This stage happens about five minutes after the first stage but lasts much longer. This is where you bite your lip as you stare at the literal REAM of paper you just printed out, and you ask yourself, nay, berate yourself for writing 86,000 words. Do I have to figure out where the glitches are? How will I ever find them? Why didn’t I just write a limerick instead? Woe is me! I’ll never finish! (Or if you’re especially dramatic and have a flair for languages, you might say “Dios mio!” And press the back of your wrist to your forehead, and possibly faint.). That’s how I roll.

3. Fear

There’s a good chance that you now treat that manuscript like it’s a rattlesnake, and boy is that rattle going. You don’t want to touch that stack of cellulose for anything in the world. It might burn you, or you may burn it, just out of spite and self-destruction. You put it in a corner of your house when you get tired of giving it a wide berth every time you walk into the house and turn on the television. It may grow into a ghost of sorts, haunting you in your sleep, and having strangers come over and stare at you wide-eyed, while they point hesitantly and say, “W-w-w-what’s that?”

4. The Ceremonial Eating of the FROG.

This is where you actually exorcise that fucking demon and pull it into the light, blow the dust off, and start reading. You have your trusty pen in hand to wipe away the drivel you wrote before, and you smile when you come across a piece that reminds you how much you enjoy writing. Alternately, you feel like a genius and a moron as you read what you wrote. You work through your manuscript like Indiana Jones hacks through the jungle (with a machete and roguish smile), and then you make those changes to the actual file like you’re seizing a flag at the top of Mount Everest. Good for you, you fucking baller. You mountain-climbing, jungle-thrashing, ghost-killing BOSS. You’ll continue to oscillate between steps 2, 3, and 4 for a while, so buckle up.

5. The Unburdening

You’ve gone through the stages multiple times, and you didn’t think you were ever going to make it. You probably missed someone’s birthday in there (hint: it was your own), and you can’t remember the names of the people living in your home with you, but you made it. You’ve grown a hump from hunching over both manuscript and keyboard, and you recoil from sunlight like a vampire. But you know what? You got through it. You’ve gone through all the stages and lived, just like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, or (for something a little less gruesome), Nicholas Cage in National Treasure. And you have your treasure, and it’s ready to go off on its own with a cute little backpack and a walking stick, and charm everyone it meets along the way, while you start the next book, because you can’t wait to repeat these five stages AGAIN.

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