Your novel is done. You’ve typed those two majestic words onto the bottom of your manuscript: the end.
But then…what next? Your precious baby of a novel is a massive jumble of…well…rubbish.
The time has come for edits.
If you’re anything like me, editing is a slightly daunting word. I’m fine with editing other people novels, but when it comes to my own, I’m all for writing. I just want to write the first draft, put it aside with good intentions of returning to edits, then write another seven first drafts of new novels before remembering about it again.
So, let’s dive right into what comes between finishing a first draft, and finishing the first round of edits.
[I also have a small note to make. Nadine Brandes did a woooonderful post on this very topic just a week or so ago (and if you haven’t read it yet, then shush, hurry up and do it now) and I was slightly miffed because I’d already written out on my calendar that I would do this post (which I’ve had in planning for a few months) today. But I’m doing it anyway. XD So here we are, if you’ve read Nadine’s post, you’ll probably find this quite similar since we apparently have fairly similar views on editing. 😉 ]
1: Put aside that 1st draft novel
This can sound like procrastinating or putting off the inevitable, but it’s one of the best things you can do for your novel. Finish that first draft, and then step away. Take a breath—for a few weeks, or a month, or a few months. You can work on a different story, or not write at all. Just push the finished novel from your mind and take a break.
2: Come back with a fresh motivation and view
After leaving your novel for a while, it’s much easier to see it as a whole project, not just as a blurry pile of words and emotions and tiredness. Come back and read over your manuscript, and after that break you’ll notice many more things than you would have otherwise.
In fact, you might notice so much that you hate your story.
3: Don’t let the first draft mess discourage you
This is such an important step. Reading through a first draft can be a horrible process. “Did I write that?” “How could I have thought this was good?” “This is all disgusting” “I wasted my time on this.”
All these thoughts happen, but you need to use them well. Yes, it’s a mess, but that’s why you have to edit. And when you edit, it’ll be so. much. better.
Keep your chin up, soldier. It’s time for lists.
4: Make a list of everything that needs to be fixed
List down the big plot holes, the character arcs you need to smooth out, those other scenes you want to add, that pointless scene you want to take away. Grab out a notebook and write them all down.
I actually find it helps me if I do editing plans on physical paper, but a word or scrivener document works just fine too.
Write down the problems, and then write down how you’re going to fix them. Plan out your plot-hole-patch, your smoother character arc, your less-preachy theme.
After writing everything down, sort it into groups. All the plot problems, put in one group. All the character problems go in another. All the theme goes in yet another. And so on.
5: Start with the biggest edits
From your lists of problems, pick out the problem that will make the most changes to your story. (This is most likely going to be the plot section.)
From there, all you have to do is work through your story and apply the fixes that you’ve already planned out. You can work through the plot changes, then move down to the next biggest edit—maybe a character or a theme problem.
6: Work your way down the list—one thing at a time
Don’t try work on the plot and the character arcs or theme or whatever. It might sound like a more practical way to do it, but it’s way more effective to focus on one thing at a time. Ignore all problems but the one you’re working on specifically. Some of the others will naturally get fixed during your work, but don’t get too sidetracked.
The edits as a whole will be stronger if you can give each element your full attention.
7: Keep on writing, writing, writing!
If you stick to it, before you know it you’ll have Sir Novel: draft two on your hands. Edits finished, plot holes fixed. Have a pizza party to celebrate, then start the process all over again. 😛
Editing can be tough, but it’s also rewarding. It’s so good to see a messy draft transforming into something readable.
Obviously, what I’ve said in this post isn’t the ONLY way to edit, but it’s the way I do it. It might not work for you, or it might fit perfectly. I’m not setting out rules or anything—let’s just be clear with that. 😉
Chat with me! What’s your favourite part of writing? (first drafts, editing, revising, etc.) Do you have a personal method of editing?