You did it! That first draft of the book you’ve been obsessing over for years is finally done. I’m proud of you, and you should be proud of yourself. Don’t forget to hit save (or have auto-save on) and shut down for the night. Your brain needs the rest for what comes next.
Editing is not an easy task. When I wrote a lot in my early 20’s, it was only to get words down on the laptop screen. Doubling back and reading what had been written honestly (and stupidly) felt someone else’s job. I was a creator after all, not an editor! Well, my idea of a writer back then was much more steeped in what I wanted it to be, rather than reality. It took another decade but now I’d easily label the editing process as the most revealing and important step for any piece.
Just as the great Michael Crichton famously said about the editing process, a book is very far from being done after that first draft. Sure, even getting down a finished story from front to back is where MANY writers stumble, and is worth celebrating, but its far from over. Well, what exactly do you do first?
All I can really describe is my own process here as everyone works very differently. I have a few key aspects to editing that I’ll lay out, which loosely follow this order;
Don’t read it immediately – For me, this is 2 to 3 weeks. This may seem weird to those who are just itching to meet a deadline, or are super excited about polishing their work, but I find it works. You need that time for your brain to move on and find new distractions so that you can return to this piece as a reader, not the author.
Read it once without marking the paper – I’d add here to print it off but some of you have 100k+ words down so don’t go and waste trees just yet. That first read hurts. You’ll dislike every sentence. Writers can be some of the most self-conscious people out there. Yet, there will be little nuggets of interesting ideas or sentences which gives you confidence to keep going. You’ll want to make notes on anything that comes to mind so have a notepad nearby. No fussing over the grammar yet! At this stage, I tend to surprise myself how the tone, or even character work, is so different compared to my original intention.
Begin markups OR Start a new document – This is a huge pill to swallow for some. What’s more important – the story or the physical words? In the end, I promise that a story is appreciated more for its details than its amount of words or pages. Sometimes, it truly is best to start fresh, now that the characters and story have found their way through their respective arcs. Roughly half of my short stories have been completely rewritten before seeing the light of day. My work-in-progress novel has lost huge chunks already. However, if you do truly feel that a complete refresh isn’t needed then begin marking up that document with every spelling, grammar, syntax, and plot hole issue! Then, go ahead and bake these into your second draft.
Read aloud – This one can be done for any draft and really lets you catch issues that may not jump out to a reading eye. Typically, its run-on sentences, comma placement, and poor dialogue choices. Just find a secluded area and do your best audiobook narrator impression.
Present to a writing group – Not my first time mentioning this suggestion on my blog, and won’t be my last! I’m sure there’s a few writers out there that can pump out masterpieces on their own but I promise you that stories only benefit from a live audience. Reading to a group may bruise your ego but it never hurts your work as that brainchild of yours will one day make its way into the world, and you will want it to be as prepared as it can be for complete strangers.
There’s other tips and tricks I’ve done to move pieces along the editing process but this covers the larger components. Everyone has their own path through this stage of writing, and every path is painful! Later on, I’ll cover “Editing – How to know when you’re done.” For now, just read as much as you write! There’s never been a book saved by a lack of editing, and coal will never be as valuable as diamond. Polish until you can really see your reflection back.
Keep turning the page,