10 Things to Do Before Editing Your First Draft
You asked, and I'm answering!
After reading through the responses to the Summer 2015 Reader Survey, I discovered that an incredible 75% of you were very interested in learning how to edit your own works. I am currently undergoing this process with my first full-length novel, so I figured that there's no better time to begin a blog series on editing than now.
So welcome to the Making Revisions with Precision epic guide for writers!!
Since I'm only about a month into the second draft of my novel, I figured I'd make the first editing post all about what I did to prepare my draft before actually digging in to the editing process. So let's hop to it, shall we?
"I'm writing a first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shoveling sand into a box so that I can build castles." – Shannon Hale
1. Wait it Up! The worst mistake you could make is to jump right in to editing immediately after finishing your first draft. Why? Because if you begin immediately, you are still all too familiar with your work. To edit effectively, you need as objective of an eye as you can manage, which means that you need to give yourself time to forget your work.
I recommend waiting at least two weeks before beginning your second draft, though a month would be optimum. In the meantime, you can work on the first draft of your next book or try your hand at a new style of writing (such as poetry or flash fiction).
Luckily for me, my novel consists of two plot lines that don't converge until the last few chapters of the book. I wrote the first plot line way back during NaNo 2014, so I had a good six months between finishing the first draft of that plot line and its first revisions. The second plot line I just finished up at the end of April, so I think I'll put that one on hold for a while yet.
2. Time to Reread! Once you've let your first draft cool off for a bit, it's time to reread what you've written. I suggest first reading through your draft without making any notes or changes. Simply read for your own pleasure...and try your very best not to throw your draft out the window and give up on writing entirely.
(Therapy Sesh: Hey, you! Guess what? Your first draft is going to suck. Big time. And it's not because you're a bad writer; it's because every first draft in the history of first drafts has sucked. That's what first drafts are for: not to be pretty, but to get your story down on paper for the simple sake of getting it out of your head. So breathe easy, my friend! You are not alone.)
And if you say that your first drafts don't suck, you are a liar, liar pants on fire. Yes, I'm a grown up.
Once you've reread your draft once, read it again with a more critical eye and a notebook in hand. As you run through it, make a note of any inconsistencies, questions that go unanswered, and other major mistakes that need to be fixed. Don't bother checking for spelling or grammar mistakes just yet. You can worry about those in a later revision.
I had *a lot* of fun in my second rereading stage (note the sarcasm?). Let's just say, I had huge plot holes everywhere. I blame it on the pressure to win NaNoWriMo, but hey! I still don't regret taking part. NaNo taught me that writing is an endurance game, and I'm forever thankful for that.
"Second draft is really a misnomer as there are a gazillion revisions, large and small, that go into the writing of a book." – Libba Bray
3. Work out Those Plot Holes Now that you've taken note of all those plot holes and unanswered questions, it's time to fix them. This could be a simple fix or a very tedious process. Don't be afraid to take some serious time to work them all out. You don't want to enter in to your second draft without having everything put in place.
I spent about two and half weeks working out all of my draft's major problems. Since I'm writing a fantasy, I had a lot of world-building work to do, specifically concerning the boundaries of magic, religious systems, and political intrigue. It was definitely a brain-wracking process, but it was so rewarding to see everything come together.
4. Check your Pacing Now that you've worked out all of your plot holes and other major mistakes, take the time to check your novel's pacing. I wrote an entire post on pacing, which you can find here, so I won't go into too much detail about how to establish and maintain pacing. But I will say that consistent pacing is absolutely vital to making your novel a success.
Without it, your novel will have sections that read too slowly and too quickly, making readers thoroughly irked. If you didn't write your first draft according to a story structure, I suggest you do so before you begin your second draft. It will definitely help you maintain a better pace. You can find a post on story structures here.
"Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings." – Stephen King
5. Kill your Darlings Ugh, such a difficult thing to do! Kill Your Darlings is all about cutting or revising story elements that don't serve a purpose, even if they are elements that you love. I recommend taking the time to look over each of your scenes, as well as your characters.
When looking at your scenes, ask yourself what purpose each scene serves. If it doesn't a) move the plot forward or b) reveal something about one of your major characters, it either needs to be reworked or cut from your novel completely.
Your characters must also serve a purpose. Your main character needs to have a goal that pushes the plot forward, while your villain needs to have one that conflicts with the MC's, thus making their journey difficult. Your supporting characters must either aid your MC or your villain in their quests to attain their goals.
6. Make Smaller Changes You may also find it helpful to work out some of the small but necessary changes before you begin your second draft. For me, this consisted of changing some of the names of people and places in my novel because they no longer matched up with the cultures I had created.
This process took me three or four days to complete, and it was probably the most heart-breaking revisions I've had to make thus far. Some of my characters I had been calling by a certain name for years now, so it was difficult to rip out such a large part of their identity and replace it with something more meaningful to the story.
"I edit my own stories to death. They eventually run and hide from me."
– Jeanne Voelker
7. Sketch Character Arcs If you've already plotted your novel according to a story structure, you can probably skip this step. However, because my novel is the first in a planned series, I found it extremely helpful to work out my characters' arcs for the entire series now. In doing so, I now have the opportunity to plant some foreshadowing for later events in the first book.
It took me four or five days to sketch out loose bullet point lists of my major characters' series arcs, but it was definitely worth the extra time.
8. Create Character Sketches You don't have to draw! I promise. A character sketch is not artwork. Rather, it is a written outline of your character that can be used as a reference while writing and revising. Every author creates their character sketches a little differently, but most include the character's physical description, age, personality, and basic storyline.
I like to use the character sketch that is provided in the Scrivener novel templates. In addition to their questions, I include a picture of someone who looks like my character and a list of my character's goals, motivations, and needs.
I definitely recommend that you create character sketches of your own. How awful would it be if a reader picked up your book and found that your character's appearance changed from scene to scene? You can make sure you get everything right the first time by creating and referencing your character sketches!
"So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making
a chore for the reader who reads." – Dr. Seuss
9. Re-establish your Characters' Goals and Motivations Now that you've made some major changes to your novel, take a look at your characters' original goals and motivations. Have the changes you've made affected them? If so, take the time to work out new goals and motivations.
Since much of my plot changed as I worked out plot holes, some of my characters' underwent a major goal and motivation overhaul. Coming to terms with their new personalities was a bit difficult, but I found that the more time I spent daydreaming about them, the more secured their new identities became in my mind.
10. Find Your Hook You're almost there! The final step I took before actually beginning my second draft was to find a new place to begin my story. Though my original first chapter contained a lot of exciting action, the action itself was confusing for those who didn't know a bit of my novel's backstory.
Unfortunately, that meant stuffing WAAAY too much backstory into the first chapter, so I decided to back my story up to the day before my original first chapter so that I could better explain what was going on. Fortunately, I was able to find a great place to start, and I even came up with a first line that I am completely in love with:
"She had heard the stars called a graveyard, where old lights go to die, but it wasn't true."
Finding your own hook may take some time, but it's one of the best things you can do to set your story up for editing success. Pull out some of your favorite novels, read their hooks, and use that inspiration to brainstorming some potential hooks for your own novel.
Tell me, what other steps do you take before beginning your own second drafts? Do you have any magical tips I should know about? I hope you have a fantastic week. Happy writing and editing, friends!