Writing a book is a long, arduous and often frustrating adventure. Once you’ve finished that first draft however you are rewarded with a feeling of unparalleled pride. But I’m afraid to say, at least in my experience, it is a feeling short lived. The burden that is editing falls quickly. When you read that first chapter and think to yourself, “what was I thinking?”, you realise that the editing process is going to be just as long, arduous and frustrating as the writing process, possibly even more so. Henry David Thoreau put it well: “Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.”
Editing can seem like a daunting process, but below are 4 and a bit tips to hopefully make the process as fun and productive as it should be.
Trim the fat.
The majority of writers are guilty of over-writing their first draft. Adding description and dialogue that is unnecessary. When editing you shouldn’t be afraid to whip out your metaphorical machete and start hacking away at that excess. Paul Lulu, in his blog post 5 Tips For Editing Your Manuscript, says:
“Above all else, I am of the opinion that trimming is the most important step in editing the first draft.”
Don’t get too carried away in your destructive editing however. You don’t want to end up with a second draft of only 87 words. Blake Atwood put it well in his blog post, Self Editing Basics: “You may start seeing unnecessary trees within your forest of words, but you don’t want to raze to the ground what you’ve toiled so hard to grow.“
Read your work out loud.
Hearing something is completely different to reading something. Your internal voice will read to you what it expects to be there, so if you’ve made errors in syntax or flow, often your internal voice will fill in the gaps for you. Reading out loud will make abundantly clear any sentences that sound wrong.
Paul Lulu says “all authors can benefit from hearing how their words sound.”
I like to imagine I’m telling my story around a campfire to a group of eager faced friends. You have a particular vibe that you’re hoping your story exudes, can you hear that when you read it out loud? Or does it fall flat?
The first edit should be big picture.
When you re-read your novel for the first time it is very easy to fall into the bog that is spelling errors, syntax errors and other minor problems. “Your first read-through should only focus on the structure of your book.” Are there major plot holes? Unfinished story lines? Maybe a character arc didn’t develop as you had hoped. This is your chance to evolve and improve the overall plot of your book and make sure there are no glaring errors. For example when I read through my manuscript for the first time I noticed a character I introduced in the first 3 chapters is no longer mentioned in the rest of the book. I didn’t even acknowledge their disappearance, they just stopped existing.
Every single author you’ve ever read and loved has struggled. They’ve looked at the page and doubted their ability and whether they’re good enough to be a writer. But they’ve worked day in day out and edited until their hands shook and they’ve created their masterpieces. And so can you.
Joanna Penn has got what is probably the single best collection of resources for aspiring writers. It’s a great place to start, and a great place to finish. Don’t be shy about looking for help! Authors are more often than not happy to share their wisdom, wisdom they probably wish had been shared with them many moons ago.
Those are 4 tips to get you started. There are far more in depth editing guides out there but they can feel overwhelming. Take your time, read your work over and over again and follow the steps above and your writing will improve exponentially.
I’ve put a couple of extra tips below that I really like, but don’t necessarily make the “Big Four” list:
Editors and Publishers make their decisions quickly.
Make sure your book is good right from the off. That doesn’t mean starting with something exciting like a fight scene, but you should introduce your story quickly. If you spend two pages describing the scenery you’re going to get rejected again and again. Jerry Jenkins says it better than I could: “If you find yourself saying, “But they didn’t even get to the good stuff,” then you need to put the good stuff earlier in your manuscript.“
Avoid Redundant Sentences.
Jerry Jenkins gives an excellent example of this:
Example: “They walked through the open door and sat down across from each other in chairs.”
If they walked in and sat, we can assume the door was open, the direction was down, and—unless told otherwise—there were chairs. So you can write: “They walked in and sat across from each other.”
And remember, if there are no mistakes left in your manuscript. You’re probably down to your last hundred or so.
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