After I finish a book, I get to ironing.
Typically I do three passes. I call them ironing, because at this stage all the plot engine stuff and moving parts are on the page, but maybe not in the exact right places, so I have to smoothe out wrinkles. Some sections will be boggy or slow. I often get caught up in a moment and stretch it out, when it needs to be faster.
So the first ironing pass catches the worst of this. Usually I’m aware of it going in. As I write chapters, I’ll leave notes on the header suggesting what may need to be done:
- Repetitive? Too long?
- Too many tears?
- Too dense – trim.
The first iron is a kind of skim, where I look at those sections first. Some may need big changes, like a whole chapter has to go, or several get combined, or similar. It doesn’t take very long.
The second pass is a full readthrough, making line edits, paragraph edits, and again shuffling some bits around. I often have a chapter somewhere in the middle that is rich on ‘theory’, kind of the working mechanisms that drive the plot, and will probably play a role in the ending.
I often need to tame these sections right back. I love throwing everything at the page, all the crazy words, terms, and ideas I can come up with, but I’m sure that is no fun to read. Readers switch off at such info dumps, glossing over sections which are crammed with some important details, then what happens later won’t make sense.
I need to thin these sections out to the essentials. This can take a LOT of time, and is pretty exhausting, but it’s always beneficial.
At the end of the second iron, the story makes sense. There are just a few notes left on a few chapters, usually any area where I made a lot of changes and am not sure if they’re right. I need to read them again in context.
For the third readthrough, I’ll do it on my phone. Going in and out of work on the train is a good time. This lets me get flow and approximate the reader experience. Sections that don’t work will leap out. Notes will go into a notes file. I can fix them later. That’s annoying, looking back and forth from my phone, but it beats doing a full readthrough at the computer again.
Hopefully I’ll get it done in a few days, definitely before Christmas, and I’ll be a free man for the holiday! It feels pretty good to have 2 books in my pocket.