I’ve written many times about how tough writing can be, but what I don’t talk about as often is the editing process.
If you’re anything like me, editing is not something you relish. It’s an unfortunate part of writing, the part where many people give up.
You’ve managed to finish a whole draft of your novel, and that’s reason to celebrate. But there’s still so much work to do before you can truly call it complete.
I find editing much harder than writing, for a lot of reasons, but mainly because it feels so hard to pin down. You know how much work is left to do, but it can be difficult to identify exactly what that is, and feel like you’re making progress towards your goal. It’s a cliché, but sometimes you just can’t see the wood for the trees.
So, if you’re struggling to get started, here are a few tips to help you edit that novel.
Step away for a while
You’ve finally finished your story in a haze of late nights and caffeine, emerging from your fictional cocoon into the real world. Your senses are heightened, you can still feel that world that you created, hear those characters calling to you.
And that’s okay, because you’re not finished with them.
The most common piece of advice when it comes to editing is to take a break. It’s mentioned so frequently because it works. When you’ve just finished writing a manuscript, you’re still too close to it, you need to set it aside for a while and focus on something else.
Give it a week, or a month, whatever works for you. But don’t be tempted to dig into it too soon. You need to look at it objectively.
Read it like a regular book
Once you’re ready to begin the editing process, it’s easy to print off a copy of your work or open up the main document on your computer.
Don’t do that.
You’ll be tempted to start fixing typos and tweaking your prose and it’s too soon for that.
Instead, consider emailing yourself a copy of the manuscript to your iPad or Kindle and reading it as though it was a real published book that you’ve bought for your own enjoyment.
You can keep a notebook beside you as you read. Jot down anything important that you want to work on later. The key is to read the full story without stopping to edit anything.
Work on the story before you worry about the quality of the writing
When you’re editing, it always feels easier to fix the small things first, rewriting sentences and correcting grammatical errors.
But before you do that, you need to consider your book’s foundations: the story, plot and characters.
Do they make sense? Does the story flow? Does it sag in the middle? Are there long spells where nothing happens? Have you missed something obvious from the plot?
Are your characters realistic? Do they behave in a logical way or do they act out of character? Do they have a distinct voice?
These are all questions to ask yourself. At this stage, to fix any problems, you might need to write some new scenes, introduce a character a little earlier or later, or delete whole scenes or characters that add nothing to the story. Think big.
When you read your manuscript, remember to check for consistency in the details. If your protagonist has brown eyes in one scene and blue in another, that’s something you need to fix.
What about your timeline? Does a character celebrate their 35th birthday, but reminisce about being at school 10 years earlier? That timeline doesn’t add up, so you need to change a few details.
These might seem like small details, but if you get them right they’ll improve the flow of your story. It’s incredibly frustrating being jarred out of a good book by an annoying inconsistency.
Unless you’re an experienced writer, it can be difficult to weave a lot of symbolism or character motivation into your first draft.
But once you’re read your novel in full, you should have an idea of the places where you can add these elements in. Chances are, you’ve already begun to craft them without realising. Perhaps you’ve repeated an image several times, or hinted at an interesting backstory for a minor but pivotal character. Can you develop them to make the story work on a deeper, more meaningful level?
What about your setting? Whether the story is set in the ‘real’ world, or you’ve created a fantasy realm entirely from your imagination, there are always more details that you can add. Think about your setting in a sensory way: what do your characters see, hear, feel, smell and taste? How do people behave around them? What are the rules governing this place? What do people believe in, or fear, or dream about?
These are just a few things to consider when you’re about to begin editing a manuscript, but they should help if you’re unsure.
So – are any of you writing a novel? If you are, I’d love to hear about it!