If writing a book were like a love affair, first drafting would be the infatuating-can’t-get-enough-of-each-other-phase and editing would be the moving-in-together-and-fighting-about-how-to-fit-all-of-your-crap-in-a-tiny-studio-apartment-phase. Less sexy, more work, still important.
Editing requires a completely different set of skills, focus, and emotional alchemy than the drafting process. It has no doubt been a struggle for me, and I don’t think I’m alone. As I’ve shared my experience with editing here and on Instagram, I’ve had a lot of responses and questions about the process. I decided to write up a few of my most effective tips for editing since it can be so hard to get started.
Though I’ve managed to get to a place where a finished manuscript is finally within reach, know that it is absolutely possible to go from crying over your computer at a coffeeshop at the start of the revisions (me), to doing a little dance in your chair at how well it’s all coming together (also me).
Let’s get to it!
1. Leave the draft awhile and relax.
This is a controversial start because some writers like to edit as soon as they type the words “The End.” If that’s you, great! For me? I had to leave it and let it breathe awhile. Finishing a draft requires so much work, it’s okay, and I would argue vital, to take a break.
By letting it sit for a few weeks (yes, weeks!), I was able to return to it with fresh eyes and from a less connected (read: subjective, fragile) space. In that time, let yourself play. Work on other creative projects, finish your laundry, watch the shows you’ve missed, or read every book you’ve neglected. Let your mind settle in the knowledge that you wrote a book! For all the fear that you’ll lose steam, remember that you’ll mostly regain a fresh perspective and replenish your well of creativity.
2. Read it once all the way through before line editing.
When you’re ready to tackle revisions, read it through first without actually editing. It’s so tempting to start picking away at word choice and run-on sentences, but by reading first from a macro level (certainly taking notes along the way), you’ll get a sense of the overall story and issues. What works and what doesn’t, what plot points are essential, what subplots you accidentally dropped (me, always me), and where to start your revisions.
There are a ton of different ways to approach that list of edits you develop after your first read through. For me, it was best to prioritize the issues from MACRO to MICRO. Make a list of what to work on overall from a story perspective, then a more specific list of chapter/character/scene changes. I tackled the macro issues first, knowing that based on how I changed the overall story would likely change the chapter/scene edits anyway.
4. Read books from your genre.
(YA Contemporary Fiction in my case). I don’t read while I’m writing a first draft and creating a story. I can’t. A finished book is too cruel a comparison, too influential in style for that vulnerable crafting phase. But through my first edit, I flew through books because a finished, published book is like a masterclass in pacing and narrative flow (the issues I struggle with the most).
Whatever the issues you identify in your WIP (work in progress) while you’re editing, there are published books that exemplify how it can be done. Don’t let it discourage you, but rather fuel you that it is possible to navigate the issues you encounter in your own work.
5. Read craft books.
I know it’s like homework, but this was a great tip I got from my Instagram writing group when I was hitting my head against the wall. There are so many books (not to mention blogs and Instagram accounts) out there that educate on the basics of narrative craft that can help focus your revisions. Some of my favorites are:
6. Breathe and stay the course.
It’s my belief that the biggest hurdle to overcome in the editing process is overwhelm. Once you finish the first draft you think you’re so close to being done only to realize that you are so much further than you could ever have expected. It’s terrifying and daunting and the list of edits and issues is rightly overwhelming. Do it anyway. Little by little, day by day, it gets easier.
Most importantly it’s worth it.
I can see that the work I’ve put in has made my book stronger, better, easier to read. It is finally looking like the story in my head. Yours will too. Don’t give up. It may take longer than you’d like, but you’ll get there. We all will.
Write on, beauties!
If you have any questions about the process, leave a comment or send me a DM on Instagram. Happy to help! We’re in this together.