So, you’ve let your first draft compost for however long your brain needs to gain some emotional distance from it. Now the hard stuff begins. Many writers, myself included, get so caught up in the creative phase of writing that when we need to put our editor hats on, it feels like a poor fit.
But I had to teach myself to love revising. Fortunately, I love puzzles and challenges, so I transferred that skill set over to my editing. What I also find important is to draw the distinction between creating and editing. Albert Einstein once said that you can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it. The writer mind is interested in creation and doesn’t want to revise, not one lovely adjective of it. The editor mind slashes things up with a red pen. To make it easier to get to that place, you may want to try some of these techniques.
Note: Everyone’s got a different style of working, and your actual mileage may vary. So I can’t presume that this series of suggestions is anything more than that. But it works for me. If you’re having trouble getting started editing a manuscript, maybe this is something you’ll want to try.
1. Read a printed copy of your manuscript all the way through. Some people are very handy with tracking comments in their Word documents, but I need to have paper in front of me so I can scribble all over it and see everything all at once. Incorporate any notes you might have gotten from writing group members or critique partners. Jot down anything that comes to mind as you read-research needed, facts to be checked, or inconsistencies. This is the working manual of your manuscript. Keeping everything in one place goes a long way toward preventing squirrel brain. This is also the playground of anyone who loves scrapbooking, colored markers and those little bitty fluorescent sticky notes. Go to town. Don’t stress about catching every single dangling modifier or misplaced comma. That’s why we do subsequent drafts.
2. Either on a series of index cards or on a computer document, summarize the content of each scene or chapter. This has several purposes. It will help you put everything in the order that’s correct for the book. It will help you cut unnecessary scenes. And it will help you write the dreaded synopsis that agents and publishers want to see when you start shopping your manuscript around.
3. Look for the missing threads. Perhaps you’ve dropped a subplot line or have a character just hanging around with no particular purpose. Using a chart like this one can help you find major problems in the plot.
4. Modify your plot summary (index cards or otherwise) based on the information you gathered from #3. Make note of any new scenes you’ll need to write, secondary characters that either need development or need to be shown the door.
5. Fact-check and research items that came up from the reading.
6. Write the next draft. Writers have differing opinions (imagine that!) about how this should be done. But I took a tip from another novelist and found that it works for me. In the early drafts, I retype the entire shebang. Yeah, I know. That’s a lot of keystrokes. But an interesting thing happened while I was doing that, besides developing a wicked case of carpal tunnel syndrome-just kidding, it was tendonitis. I was able to divorce myself from what I had already written and could more easily make the drastic changes that were necessary. There’s something about a computer document that seems so “finished” that we don’t want to tear it up, if that’s what’s needed.
7. Set aside to compost until you’re ready to work on the next draft.
8. Repeat steps 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 (updating your plot summary and character chart is necessary) until done.
But how do you know when you’re done? Ah, my friends, that’s a question for another blog.
So how do you and editing get along? Are you eager and ready with a red pen? Or does the whole process make you want to start writing another book instead?