Three Tips to Start Editing Your Draft

“I can’t bring myself to look at an old manuscript. I’m dreading how much rewriting it’ll need.”

“Whenever I read through my draft, I want to rip up everything I’ve written. I don’t know how it could possibly be fixed.”

“I’m almost done with the first draft, but I’m dragging my feet to finish because I hate editing.”

I hear this kind of thing all the time. And I get it. Finishing a draft is monumental. That moment you sit back from that final sentence, that final word, a last bit of punctuation is worthy of a 1980’s movie montage: glowing shots of the gray days of boredom, the angsty days of self-doubt, the valiant days of punching defiant letters on a keyboard, and the triumphant days of genius. Trumpets should blare, the sun should rise, and chocolate should rain down from the ceiling.

Except . . .

There’s that nagging awareness that the next grueling phase is on the horizon. Editing. Buzz officially killed.

There are as many ways to approach editing as there are writers, but here are three to start with when that dark time of revision draws nigh:

MINDSET

I’m a huge advocate for sticking a draft in a drawer (literal or otherwise) for a good long time. Let yourself celebrate, bask in your awesomeness, and acknowledge the major accomplishment. Allow yourself some distance from your manuscript. Some only need a few weeks, while others take years off. You’re looking for that magical time when you’re able to read it without tearing it up or feinting at the thought of tampering with it.

However, it’s easy to get stuck there. “I’ve told my story. I proved that I could write it. Do I really need to do more?” The obvious answer, if you’re going to pursue publishing, is yes, by the power of Grayskull, you do. But if you’re on the fence about what to do with this draft, it might take some convincing to return to it. At such times, our mindset needs a reboot. Yes, the story has been told. It exists outside your brain now, but if this story deserved to be told, doesn’t it deserve to be told as well as possible? Sit down with your manuscript saying, “this story should be told and told well.”

THINK BIG

The death-knoll of progress in the early stages of revision is persnickety editing. Your first read through will likely end in tears if each paragraph has extensive changes to three or more sentences. As tempting as it is, avoid searching for every missing comma, every weak verb, and every opportunity to enhance a description. All those things are important, but they’ll come later. If the temptation is too great, circle the offending text and tell it you’ll be back.

Start with big changes. Read the whole draft from start to finish making general notes about structure, character, pacing, and style. Identify chunks for removal or relocation. Look out for areas of the plot that were dropped or unclear. Make an outline and timeline of what came through in the draft and compare it to what outline or timeline you might have from your planning stages. This all helps a writer avoid agonizing over fine tuning a piece of text that ultimately might be extraneous to the plot.

ENLIST HELP

For some of us, having someone else read our unedited work is a proposition of equal appeal to having chickenpox on our eyes or needles stuck under our toenails. However, our brains hold more about the story than what made it into the draft, which makes catching plot holes or missing exposition trickier. Enlisting another brain that is absorbing only what’s in writing forces us to focus on the big edits first. There are even editors (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) that will read your manuscript and compose a report of their reflections and suggestions, but if you don’t have editing services in your budget, pick a friend, neighbor, or relative.

Helpful hint: bartering with your reader reduces the awkwardness of asking for a favor and yet doesn’t approach the level of a contract.

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