So you got through your first draft. It may be looking a little worse for wear, perhaps there are some scenes missing, some holes, notes scribbled all over it. But there it is; your beautiful first draft.
Now begins the process of editing and completing your novel for beta readers (or straight to the publishers if that’s your jam).
One note: A lot of writers don’t feel like editors at heart. They can create sure, but cutting, destroying and remolding, that requires a different set of skills….don’t worry, they’re all skills you can learn. If this is you and you’re looking at your manuscript like where the heck do I start? This post should help. And who am I to say so? A certified copy editor, who’s edited published fiction books and worked in the writing field for 9 years, so there we go. Moving on.
First Step on the Editing Train
Put your manuscript away for at least 2 weeks. AT LEAST. Preferably 6.
Once your manuscript doesn’t feel so familiar (and at times you won’t even remember writing what’s on the page, which is great) get ready for the editing process step numero uno.
Here are the tools you will need:
Track Changes in Word (or equivalent in places like Adobe).
Round One of Edits: The First Impressions Read
This is the round I call, the first impression read. Before you go through and edit anything, read it like a reader. This is where you’re going to mark the manuscript with big, sweeping statements about what’s not working. DON’T edit anything, just make notes. You’ll save a heap of time.
You can do this one of two ways: in a notebook, or mark each beginning of a chapter/section with track changes on Word, as well as the part it references. If it’s a whole novel issue, write it at the beginning. This is crucial for later. It’ll look something like:
Note: Pacing in this chapter too fast, they get to location really quick and the drama doesn’t build. See note 1.2 for references.
I could sit here and give you a list of what you’re looking for (and I will point out some ideas) but you’ll know when something doesn’t FEEL right. Editing is fundamentally down to gut and if you read a lot, you’re going to have pretty honed-in gut instincts about stuff from your genre. You won’t get everything an outsider might see (that’s what beta readers and editors are for) but you’re going to see the big sweeping things you want to fix.
This could be:
- General pacing issues: Did a chapter go too fast? A paragraph? A scene? An entire love connection?
- Does a character feel fake?
- Is it too predictable?
- Is the voice right?
- Is there a plot hole in the chapter?
- Do you need to research something?
- Is XYZ needed?
- Is the dialogue all wrong in a section?
- Is the scene even needed? (And if not, what crucial information from that scene needs to be placed elsewhere in the novel?)
- Is this character needed?
This could take a week or more to complete, by the end of it, you should have a pretty good idea of what big changes will need to be made. If there are any huge changes (cutting scenes, adding scenes, pacing issues, character arcs, cutting characters) this is what you’ll work on next. Doing all of this could take a month or more to get through, depending on how fast you are.
The point of editing in the first stages is to go big, BIG picture ideas. You gotta go big before you can get down to the little details, otherwise, you’ll spend the next few years spell checking every new thing you add. Seriously, ain’t no one got time for that.
Want a professional/anybody else to do this big picture editing for you? If so you’re looking at hiring a developmental editor, beta readers, or a manuscript critique. I offer manuscript critiques here, currently, I’m not taking on any developmental editing work.