As I explained in the draft post of this series, it took me three years to write The End on my first novel. I knew from personal research that editing is where the real book takes shape. I expected it to be hard work and take up a lot of time.
And boy, did it do just that.
Now, my circumstances while writing the first draft were not ideal, so in part, I blame that on it taking so long. But if there’s one thing I learned from the process of writing a book it’s this:
Write your first draft as soon as possible.
No, really. That’s the easy part. That’s the part you can control and manipulate so that it doesn’t take you ages to finish. There are plenty of resources out there to help you through this first step. Having an outline is probably your best bet. Knowing where the story needs to go and how it gets there is the key element to not getting stuck and wondering: Now what?
It keeps your fingers typing. Some good resources I would recommend are Rachel Aaron’s short book (with a long title) 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, and also Susan Dennard’s personal blog. In retrospect, I wish I knew about these when writing my first draft, as they would have sped up the process a lot.
I’m telling you to finish the first draft ASAP because then comes the fun part. Then comes revision, or editing. I personally love this part, but it’s not to everyone’s liking. It’s a lot more technical.
It involves long periods of staring at that one sentence and wondering if that’s really the best you can do with those particular words. It means changing characters, goals and motivations. Deleting huge chunks of your beloved hard work because it just doesn’t serve a greater purpose. You get to insert snippets of foreshadowing and clever little easter eggs. You get to connect the dots of your plot better and fill in those nasty plot holes. You look closer at the theme of your book and modify things accordingly.
The first thing I did when I began editing was mark up my manuscript into bits. This is what it ended up looking like.
Red meant delete, teal meant rewrite, green was ok and blue meant move it to another point in the book. You can see just how much ended up scrapped, and that was just the first round of edits. I changed my book over many times and continued deleting parts and replacing them with better ones. This is why you shouldn’t spend this much time on writing the first draft.
This is why you should outline. Outlining means less bits will need taking out, because you have already planned every scene and should be able to justify its purpose. I know that now. Evidently, I didn’t back then. Or, I did know but I thought I would do it my way anyway.
And writing by the seat of your pants (or being a pantser) can work, totally. But if you want to make a living off of your books, then you should learn how to be a gardener, or a plotter. Because making money off of books means putting out books more frequently than once every seven years, you know? Unless you’re a famous fantasy writer. It takes time to learn the craft of writing and being able to produce good books in short amounts of time. But that’s the way to go and the sooner you get used to that idea, the better your future of being a novelist will be.
Another part of my editing process required post-its. Lots and lots of post-its. This is another thing I did wrong, because of when in the process I did this. Working out your timeline and fitting scenes into that timeline should be done as part of your outlining process. That means before you start writing your first draft. I did this after. See the mistake there? This is what that looked like.
And then came the rewriting. At this stage, I would start a fresh Word document, have my marked up version of the first draft on half of the screen, and would write the book all over again. This seems counter productive, but when you have spent three years writing that first draft, the way you would write the same story after that time will be different. Better. You have matured as a person and as a writer.
It’s the same story, the same characters. Having to write up the words from scratch instead of changing the ones already on the page made me see the errors better, see the wonky phrases, see the rambling run on sentences. I was able to tell the story better.
It’s a great tool and I think it works very well. But I’m not saying it’s always necessary. It depends on every single draft and the perceived quality of said draft. And it takes time, of course. But, as we’ve already learned, the process of writing a book can best be described as time consuming. And that’s just the way of things.
Editing is my favourite part of writing. Because you take that pile of crap that was the first draft (and trust me, it will be a pile of crap, mostly) and mould it into an actually decent piece of literature. And then do that at least three times over until you cannot stand the characters in your book anymore and you feel like if you had to change another word of it you would rather cut off your own arm.
And then you give it to critique partners and beta readers to tear it to shreds. Because of course you’re not done yet. It’s never done. They will give you feedback and you will then have another pass or two or three incorporating that feedback. I will write up another post going into more detail about what critique partners are, what they do and how to find them. And how it worked for me.
So, this is where I’m at right now. I’ve given Hunting Vienna a few round of edits myself, and then I set it out into the wild to have it read and critiqued by a couple of great writers. I got back the feedback, cried a few times, and then set to work on fixing the glaringly obvious issues I somehow missed. There will be problems. It’s impossible for you to spot every single one. And yes, it may hurt a little when someone else points these out, but ultimately it will mean a much better book.
And all is not as horrible as it seems. Because even if my CP’s found issues with my manuscript, the general consensus was that they greatly enjoyed the book regardless. They loved the characters and the setting, and the main plot line. After being in my own little bubble for so long, working on this thing, no other soul had set their eyes upon this book.
And it was scary getting it out there. I freaked out when I pressed that send button on that first email to one of the CP’s. But after seeing their reactions, and seeing that they didn’t hate it, I was over the moon. Because there was always that chance that it was all in my head and no one else could possibly like it.
I’m glad it wasn’t all in my head.