My Take on Writing Part 5: The First Edit

Okay. The time has finally come when you’ve completed your first draft. You sit back and look at it and realize one thing. It’s in rough, rough shape. Already, you see places where you think you would change it. Maybe there’s one too many subplots. Maybe your character is turning out to be more of a dork than you realized. Maybe you feel like just hitting the delete key and starting over. Of course, you could be on the flip side of things and think that you’ve drafted the perfect novel all in one shot and that your job is over. Not so fast on either side. All you’ve done is what I like to call the totally fun part. You’ve drafted a novel. Period. Now it’s time to begin what might be the not-so-fun process of editing. Here are some tips based on my own experience:

1. Set the manuscript aside for awhile. You may think, “Well, I’m going great guns on this! Why would I stop right now?” I’m recommending setting it aside because at this moment, you’re so close to the manuscript that you might not see things that need editing or see way too many things that need some critical thought. Turn to other things you have going on for a two or three months. Let the manuscript marinate for a bit in your mind. It might surprise you how that changes your perspective.

2. Print out your manuscript. After the marinating period is finished, take the time to print the manuscript. Some may scoff and state that it’s antiquated to do so. Well, to each his own. It’s just that with having a hard copy in front of you, it’s easy to flip back and forth, make comments, and maybe do some rewriting.

3. Use that red pen (or blue or purple) pen. Put pen to paper here. Take a critical look at the way phrases are written, how the plot works, and whether or not anything can be deleted. This may seem overwhelming if the novel has several issues. If so, then focus on plot and worry about other editing at later stages. Remove any scenes that don’t advance the plot because these are extraneous scenes. If needing to add scenes, then either write them on paper or draft them on the computer with a clear reference as to where they go in the novel.

4. It’s okay to redraft. In the business of writing novels, redrafting may be viewed as a last resort. Maybe you’re halfway through your editing and you realize that the characters just aren’t working with the plot or with each other. You’re starting to feel a bit panicked. What to do? Take a deep breath, swallow hard, and recycle that manuscript. Yes, it’s difficult to do, but sometimes only a rewrite will work. This happened to me with a novel I just finished drafting. I’d tried for three versions to get the characters to work with the plot, but nothing seemed to work. Discouragement abounded because I tremendously liked the characters. I told myself, “If this doesn’t work, I’m going to have to abandon them, and I really don’t want to do that.” So I set aside what I was working on and rewrote the whole thing. Finally, finally, it paid off as I dialed into a plot that worked well with the characters. That novel is now in the process of marinating, and I’m so glad I bit the bullet and decided to start over.

Editing is hard work, especially this first round. Be patient. Take the time to do it right. You’ll be well-rewarded as you see a dramatic improvement to your product.

Up Next: More Editing

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