Post number two in my ‘Tips for Getting Published’ series.
This one is huge.
If you already have a super polished manuscript, and are very confident in your editing skills, then feel free to skip this post. However, if you are like me and could always learn more tips, I hope some of the ones I have come across may be helpful for you.
Well. This is fairly straightforward. No first draft is a masterpiece. In fact. It usually takes multiple drafts and rewrites before the story even starts to take shape.
I often think of writing like carving marble. You have to sketch what you’re going to work with (planning and ideas). Then outline it on the stone (first draft). Then you sit there and chip and chip and chip and carve away until it starts to look like something (first, second, third, etc. drafts). Then you polish and refine to perfect your piece (final read over and criticism).
Don’t expect your first go at it to be wonderful. It won’t be. The goal of the first draft is to get the bones formed, the general idea and structure. Then you edit. It is only after editing that most people figure out what their story was even about in the first place.
What is editing?
An equally important question.
It is the act of going over your work over and over, fine tuning and refining it.
So what are the steps to editing?
Well. That’s going to be different for each person. Generally, you find a process that works for you, and go with it. These are the steps I follow.
first read through
My first draft is usually just a general overview of the book. I’ve written out everything I’m going to use, but it’s very bare. For example, a line you might find in my first draft could be:
“I walked to the store. The milk wasn’t going to buy itself.”
There’s nothing wrong with this sentence. However, it is just the minimum of what it could be.
First read through, I go through and add descriptions, beef things up a bit, add in drama where there wasn’t any before.
Throw on the spice, and fireworks!
The sentence above edited after a first read might look like this:
“It was the kind of day where the sun chases the clouds around – sometimes getting ahead and shining brightly on the dripping lampposts and sidewalks – but sometimes the clouds win, and then the world all at once looks gloomy. I elbowed open the store door during one of those gloomy moments, and a bell clanged. Milk. It would be kept in the back, by the refrigerated goods. The ice-cream. And between me and that refrigerator door was a whole maze of candies and other lovely things waiting to be bought. I gripped the five dollars in my pocket. I needed to buy milk, and bring the change back to my roommates. We had a budget. But when was the last time we had gotten chocolate? And we definitely needed that Nutella waiting for me on the shelf. It was healthy, right? ….”
And I could go on, but your get the idea. Second draft adds a lot of content to my first draft. One sentence becomes a good couple paragraphs that tell you more about the character, the plot, the world.
You have to be careful with this, however. You do want some places where you ‘tell’ what happens. You do this with the scenes that will be boring or dull to the readers, and the scenes that really won’t add to the characters and story. However, if you are like me, then you tell too much already. You could have an entire novel of ‘telling’ and sentences like “I walked to the store and bought milk. Then I walked home. I said hi to Mom.”
It’s a balance between showing and telling.
You don’t want to bore your readers with over wordy and descriptive passages, but you also want to draw them in and give them an attachment to the story.
This is the idea of the first read over.
First technical edit
Now that you’ve got the content you want to work with, it’s time to start polishing.
For this step, I use Susan Dennard’s process. She’s a genius, and her editing steps have really helped me out. If you want to check out the steps she’s got with lovely helpful pictures, look on her website here. (helped me out a lot, so I definitely suggest heading over and checking it out)
Basically what you need to do is go through your novel looking for big plot, character, and setting problems. The huge ones. Like the fact that you said a certain house has a door to the north in one part of the novel, and later you say its north side is entirely covered in windows. Oops. So how do you fix this?
I mean it!
Print all the hundreds of pages of your book. I know. It costs a lot, and it’s a lot of paper. But it is infinitely helpful, and trust me, it’s glorious to work on a hard copy after such a long time typing away.
So print it out.
Now you’re going to need supplies.
These are your editing tools:
- Sticky notes
- Cue cards
- Preferably different coloured pens (the type you take notes with)
- Sticky tabs
Got all that?
Set up in a nice quiet place with lots of space to work. Then get ready to hold on.
Your goal is to outline what has happened in your novel.
Let’s start with an easy one.
Go through your novel, and choose a different sticky note for each of the settings that show up in your novel. Label a sticky note and tack them on the places where these scenes show up. The idea, is that you can go through each of the scenes that have the same setting, and make sure they all line up. No breaks or differences.
This is the idea with Plot and Character as well. You go through, and have all your ‘Sally’ tabs. Stick them where she shows up. Make sure her character is consistent. She can’t like candy one minute, and hate it the next. Not if there isn’t a good explanation for the shift.
See what I’m getting at?
You want everything mapped out so it’s easy to see and easy to track.
Go through everything you have, making sure it all lines up. Catch the plot holes, make sure the events are reasonable, and that the timeline flows.
Now you have a solid draft. From here on out it is just a matter of reading through again and again, and catching those particularly sly mistakes. I highly recommend getting beta readers for this. They are super helpful for revising your work in all regards. A good place to find them is on Goodreads in a beta reader group, or on any author-help website.
Best of luck with writing!