I couldn’t think of a way to make this post sound exciting, because I don’t really think editing is exciting. It’s not boring, exactly, but it feels so much more like work to me than the freedom of a first draft.
I’ll also stick a big disclaimer here: This is not a ‘How to Edit’ post. Because I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all formula for any part of writing, and you certainly shouldn’t sit worrying if you work diferently from your writer friends. Writing is art, after all, and everyone sculpts their story using the tools that fit in their hands.
On that note, here’s what I do.
Once I’ve finished the first draft, I sit down. I make tea, and pick up the books I’ve been neglecting to read whilst I was writing. I eat crisps and I recharge my creative power sources. Some people are creative oceans, but I’m a creative puddle, and need refilling with art and books and fanfiction regularly or I dry up and look like clay. So I enjoy other people’s work.
The draft comes back bloodied with track changes, and, fully refilled with muse-juice, I read through the edit suggestions.
Sometimes there are helpful texts, too.
There will then be a short interlude where I will sulk.
And it’s fine to sulk. You wrote a book! How dare people criticise it?! Well, actually, it’s because it needs work. Maybe a lot. Maybe only a bit. Maybe you’ll have to lose a subplot, or create a new character, or actually come up with a solution to that plot hole you were hoping no one would notice. Traditionally published books are all edited. And I, for one, am so grateful for anyone willing to poison their eyes enough with my first draft to let me know what’s wrong with it.
I hardly ever write by hand up until this point. Once I’ve sponged up the comments people have given me, I go through the track changes again, and write a list, with three columns:
Problem, Solution, Implication
And it might look something like this:
And I’ll do this for every track-changes point on the document. Sometimes, it can be a very impressive list. And sometimes, if the comment is on voice or character, the single comment can become several list-items.
Why do a list? Because, deep down (not that deep), I’m a child who needs to feel like I’m achieving something. And crossing things off a list makes me feel productive, and I can see how much I’ve done and have left to do.
As I write my story around the characters, I am pretty much always open to suggestions about changes to plot points, but I do get mildly posessive over characters. Though this is something I’m learning to be less clingy with, as my characters have lived in my head for so long, I want to do them justice rather than letting a wibbly first-draft version of them wobble onto the page.
This is why I have to show people my work, because I get utterly story-blind. After the first edit through the list, I leave the MS to sit for a few days (if I can stay away from it), then read through it again, checking for spelling mistakes, inconsistencies and anything else that’s jumping out as in need of a quick drop into the bin.
Maybe different eyes will look at it the second time. Maybe the same eyes will have different comments.
What I’ve really learned about writing in the past year is that it takes a village to bring a book together. The author, agent, crit partners, editors and more – they all help as a team to sculpt the lump of book that the author digs out of their brain-mine, and turn it into something beautiful.