Remember when I said, “Don’t worry about editing, just write.”?
Well, that was cute for the first draft. But once that’s finished, it’s time to get serious and start the editing process.
To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, E.B. White, Roald Dahl and Truman Capote: writing IS rewriting.
When I finished the first full draft of my novel, I thought I was just inches away from the finish line. Little did I know that it would be a good year-and-a-half before my manuscript was ready to send to agents. And six months later, after hearing valuable feedback from some of those agents, I’m back to making edits again.
Editing is a long process that doesn’t end with getting an agent. Once you find someone to represent your book, there will likely be more edits before they feel the manuscript is ready to shop around. Then if a publishing house picks the book up, it will go through even more revisions with their editor.
Knowing all of that, it’s easy to understand why people say that writing 10% putting words on paper and 90% editing.
So there I was, blissfully unaware of the many steps that came after finishing that first draft. I reached out to my friend Kristin Harmel, an International Bestselling Author, and asked how she went from her first draft to the second.
This was her advice:
- Print out the manuscript and go through it twice—once for major things (scenes that drag on too long, characters that aren’t developed enough and plot threads that aren’t tied up) and another time for grammar, punctuation, etc.
- Save the original file as “Draft 2” and go through the marked up pages, updating the document as you go.
- Set it aside for (at least) one week.
- Read Draft 2 on the computer, this time going through and making changes as you read. (I would save this as Draft 2.5 just so the original second draft is saved somewhere.)
- Print it out and go through once more by hand and mark up any problems.
- Save the file as Draft 3 and make all the changes that were marked up.
I followed Kristin’s advice to get from Draft 1 to Draft 2, but then I felt so confident that I skipped the steps that came next. I had been working on my novel for 15 years. It was ready. Or so I thought.
It turns out, I was nowhere near ready. I needed a Draft 3, and so will you. Trust me. It’s worth noting that same manuscript is currently saved on my computer as Draft 5.
I quickly realized my mistake and went back to follow the rest of the steps listed above, plus an additional one:
After a reader pointed out that I’d left an ‘f’ out of the Eiffel Tower and forgot the apostrophe after Dunkin’ Donuts, I went through the manuscript and circled any proper brand name, city, landmark, national monument, etc.
As I went through the manuscript making edits from the marked up copy, I double checked the spelling and formatting every time I came across one of those circled words. I found it was a helpful and necessary step to avoid mistakes like leaving an ‘s’ off of CliffsNotes or making it two words instead of one. It’s all in the details!
Once you feel like your manuscript is as polished as you can make it on your own, it’s great to have other people read it. And by other people, that doesn’t mean just family and friends. There are a lot of great places online where you can find critique groups or ‘beta readers’, people who are willing to read and your entire manuscript and send you their thoughts.
I went through the ‘beta reader’ stage after I submitted my manuscript to agents—but I would highly recommend doing that first. In the long run, it would have saved me time and likely increased the number of responses I got from agents. Curiosity killed the cat and over-confidence can kill a manuscript!
When I was choosing my beta readers, I made sure they came from a diverse group so I didn’t get a lot of the same feedback. I had some amazing writers from the Women’s Fiction Writers Association read my manuscript looking for more technical things, and some friends who just like to read to share their overall thoughts. Each person read the story in a different way, and I was able to learn something from each of their perspectives.
I printed out another hard copy of the manuscript and made notes as I went through each document my beta readers sent back to me. Any comment, question or suggestion that I agreed with was added to the hard copy, which I’ll use to make final changes before sending it off again.
And then it will be done. For now.
How do you edit your work? Share any other tips or tricks in the comments!