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You've finished your first draft -- by Milana

You've finished your first draft. You've spent the last three days rejoicing and eating chocolate. But don't celebrate too much. Not yet. You still have the exhausting and emotionally draining process of Editing to go through before you can finally send that manuscript out to find its place in the world.

Editing is a miserable experience and it might even mean cutting our favorite scenes or characters, but it is necessary, trust me. Even for those of you who can afford a professional editing job, it's still important to review your work and make sure, most of all, that your story arcs connect and make sense, your characters stay themselves and don't make any unintentional personality switches (yes, that can happen, even to the best of characters), that your grammar usage is correct, and that your plot devices ( segues, use of the Deus ex machina, and other tricks) don't show. This step of the writing process is especially important for those of you who might be considering self-publishing. My plea to you is, check, check, and double-check your work before you publish it. Too many authors get excited about their story and toss it out there without a thought to making sure it's ready first.

So here are some editing tips for you lucky writers who have a complete first draft to work with:

1.       Don't jump immediately from finishing the first draft to editing. Step back for a while and let your work sit. I recommend waiting a week or two, maybe even a month, before coming back to edit. You might even want to start a new book in between, just to give yourself some fresh perspective. You'll be able to see mistakes more clearly if you give the book some breathing space before editing.

2.       When you come back to the book, read it through once before start the editing process. Then go through it page by page, making your notes or your changes. I recommend making notes first, then coming back to make the necessary changes.

3.       If you have your work on the PC, print it all off, put it in "one big honkin' binder" and arm yourself with a red pen. It helps if you have a hard copy to read through, plus, I kind of enjoy seeing the little red pen marks all over the pages. 

4.       Be completely ruthless. I mean it. If you find that your favorite scenes interrupt the story flow, chop them out. Your story will be better for it, I promise. (However, before cutting your favorite characters or scenes, you might want to get a second opinion. Make sure the reader is completely neutral though.)

5.       If you find yourself cutting favorite scenes, don't throw them away. Save them. Put them in a separate file if you have to, but keep them. You might find a home for them later.

6.       I also mentioned plot devices. First of all, watch out for the Deus ex machina. There is nothing wrong with using this, but it can be hard to conceal. You don't want to throw a character in just to save the hero's life, then drop him completely. The reader will  notice. If you must use it, make sure it's well blended into the story. Second is filler or segues. Once again, don't let the reader know that you threw that scene in just to get to the next chapter. Make sure it's meaningful and actually adds something, no matter how small, to the story. 

7.      Keep a cup of coffee, tea, or your favorite hot liquid close at hand. It will sustain you through the worst moments of slashing and heartless chopping.

8.     Once you've finished editing, send your manuscript on to someone who you trust to be impersonal or neutral, and ask them to look it over. 


Yes, editing is painful, but once you've finished, your manuscipt will have reached a whole new level of awesome. Hopefully, you will have sifted out the silt and reached the diamond underneath. Good luck, and remember, tip number seven is extremely important! Happy editing!


Posted by Milana 10 Nov 2014 at 00:55
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Responses to this blog

Imjustdru 10 Nov 2014 at 16:01  
Thanks for the editing tips. I got comic book scripts in cold storage that are waiting for fresh eyes. For title I'm thinking "Proper Editing" is something your blog could use.
Milana 10 Nov 2014 at 19:15  
No problem! Hope you find this useful.
Rellrod 11 Nov 2014 at 02:56  
I actually think editing is kind of fun — but I may be in the minority.

One case you don't mention: where you've got about a thousand accumulated CC crits to consider, so it's not just a matter of rereading the story yourself and making changes. (The "crits and rewrite notes" file for my WIP itself runs over 33,000 words at this point. )

In that case you've already got a "second opinion" — and probably a tenth or twelfth — but it's now up to you to make the calls as to what changes get made, what suggestions to accept, what you want to do about the issues commenters have raised. The result may be nothing like any of the suggested fixes — but it's exciting to realize how much better all the edits are making the finished product.

Paul1948 11 Nov 2014 at 12:52  
We all need an editor. No one improves in a vacuum. And there's nothing more frustrating than someone who just says, I liked your story! Good comments are valuable, but real comments as well as a visit by the punctuation police (apart from an occasional ego bruise) turns a story into a connection with another person, like music when it touches something inside us.


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