I realize that my timing isn’t perfect for this post. At least, not for all of those WU-ers who are participating in NaNo this year– which after all is largely an exercise in letting your creativity and your story flow by NOT thinking about editing. But it’s been several years since NaNoWriMo fit into my writing schedule, and since for me this month happens to be largely devoted to edits, I wanted to share some of the things I’ve been thinking about the process. If you’re in the process of an edit, maybe some of my strategies will work for you, too. And if you’re NaNO-ing, maybe it will come in handy once the month is over and you’ve (hopefully) got a solid part of your first draft down. So, my editing do’s and don’ts:
DO: Give yourself some time between finishing a draft of your story and picking it back up to edit. I’d say at an absolute bare minimum a week, but more time is probably even better. The distance will help you to see your story with fresh eyes during the editing process, which is vital to figuring out what weak spots need to be strengthened, what character arcs need to change, etc.
Don’t: Be afraid of the process. I actually love editing– once I get started. But when I first open up a book file with an editorial eye, I usually have a moment of near panic: Oh no! What if I read it and it’s absolutely terrible! That’s when I just have to remind myself to breathe and dive in. Messy first drafts can always be made better– that’s the point of an edit after all. And if your book was truly, irredeemably bad, it’s unlikely you would have managed to finish it to the point of having a draft to edit. So take heart and just click open the file. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised when the draft you thought was in shambles isn’t nearly as messy as you feared.
Do: Be willing to cut, cut, cut. Depending on your process, this step may vary for you–I know some authors write a very bare-bones first draft and then expand on it during edits== but for me, the first draft is all about getting everything in my head onto the page. Everything. Descriptions, long internal monologues, etc– I throw it all in. Your mileage may vary, but it works for me; that’s how I discover the essentials about my characters and their journey. Then the editing step for me is all about condensing that first draft down, eliminating the unnecessary and making each page of story as lean as possible while still holding onto the essentials I discovered in the first draft. I look at each sentence, asking myself whether it’s absolutely crucial to the story I want to tell. If not, out it goes.
Don’t: Push yourself to edit too quickly or work through too much in a single editing session. It can be easy to get sucked into your own story and start reading it as a reader instead of as the story’s architect that you are. Obviously when we read books for entertainment– even when we read critically– we’re probably not examining every single sentence with an eye to deciding whether it could be better/tighter/more effective. That effort is exhausting– but also essential. I find that I start losing focus after editing 4-5 chapters and need to take a break if I’m going to keep up with the intensity of the edit.
Do: Celebrate the process. Editing can feel overwhelming– after all you’re effectively spending your working days staring at a giant list of everything that’s wrong with your manuscript. But I’ve found that just taking it step by step cuts down significantly on the overwhelm. Even major plot issues are usually resolved much more easily than I feared if I just tackle them one at a time. And without wanting to sound too Pollyanna-like, I try to be grateful for the process, too. If you’re editing, that means you’ve finished a book– which is definitely cause for celebration. Even if the book isn’t ready for any eyes but yours, you’re still another step further down the road in your writing career.
What about you? What are your favorite editing tips? Are you doing NaNo this year?