Backwards Logic: Advice on Editing

Editing is hard. I feel like I don’t even need to elaborate here. I don’t envy an editor’s job, and they only have to edit other people’s work. Editing your own work is like an unusual form of torture. I’ve described it, jokingly, but with a sincere tear in my eye, as:

  • Several hours of saying, “What was I thinking?”
  • Staring at a document until you start to sweat or cry blood
  • Repeatedly calling yourself a hack
  • Redoing several months’ worth of work

So it’s understandable that you’ll get reluctant to keep editing. You’ll need things like NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month) or heaven knows what else just to get that boot up your backside to get you to spit-shine that awful first draft (or second draft. Or third draft. Or eighth draft).

For me, even when I feel I’m really on a role with my editing, and even (gasp) enjoying it, the same thing keeps happening with my drafts: the beginning is always better than the middle, and leaps and bounds better than the end. Obviously, this is a problem, as a really good book can be absolutely ruined by a mediocre ending. What I think happens is I simply run out of energy by the time I’ve reached the end of my manuscript, and I’ve had so many more ideas on how I’m going to fix it more in the next draft that I tend to rush so I can start it already.

So I’m trying to edit backwards. Not for every draft, just every few drafts or so, I’ll start by editing the final chapter, then the chapter before, and the chapter before, and so on until I’m back to chapter one.

There are many things I like about this method, but my favourite three are these:

A New Angle

If you’ve been working on something for a long time, you will eventually hit that wall where you can’t bear to even look at it. Well, you have to still look at it, whether you like it or not. So why not look at it from behind? Starting at the end and working backwards lets you see it all in a different light. You’ll also notice things you might not have, because you might know the plot so well by now that you’re skimming parts. It’s much more difficult to skim backwards.

Foreshadowing

If you’re anything like me, you get too excited during drafts and, when you get an idea around the point you’re editing, you will just add it in, without warning. So, you have this new development, scene, or character, that wasn’t in any earlier draft. Fine, the next draft you can add some foreshadowing and put some work in to make sure it fits and doesn’t look like you just pulled it out of the air. Working backwards from the ending makes this process much easier; foreshadowing is life-changingly simple when you’ve rewritten the important scene already, and then work backwards through the buildup.

Stronger Ending

It also helps to edit the end again right after a front-to-back edit, because the ending is still fresh in your mind, so you will likely be all pumped up to work on it even more. Again, if you’re like me, you’ll find that you run out of steam towards the end of an edit, and the ending may suffer as a result. By starting at the end, you’re giving it more attention, and putting more energy in, and you’re probably more excited to get it done, too.

It’s such a simple idea; I’m actually a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t think of it sooner. So, if you’re struggling to edit your manuscript, why not try some backwards logic?

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