Most people feel that this is an inevitable trial. You finish the first draft and know that it isn’t where it should be. Why would it? You were still discovering the story as you went even with your detailed outline. There may be typos and continuity errors and sections that don’t work at all and others that need to be added. It’s a garden that needs to be trimmed back and nurtured before letting the Homeowners Association get a look at it for judging. Needless to say, it tends to be stressful.
It’s also impossible to entirely agree on how it’s done. Just look at these questions:
- Do you edit right away while the idea is fresh or wait months to come at it with clearer eyes?
- Do you go through it once, twice, or fifty times?
- How many editing runs before you go to beta readers if you use them at all?
- Do you junk 80% of what you wrote because that’s what you read a famous author does?
- Print out or computer screen?
- From back to front or front to back?
- Do I need to edit anyway because people might like this raw manuscript?
- What should I drink when editing?
- Does everybody have this much trouble with this stage?
- Should I hire a professional?
Nearly every author has their own methods of editing and a handful scream that they have the correct way. The truth is that they don’t because, as I say a lot, what works for one author won’t necessarily work for another. The stories are different. The characters are different. The human being behind those is different. You can’t say that you have a surefire editing method and expect it to work for everyone. Once it fails somebody, you’re left looking silly and need to sputter out excuses or apologies. So, my note here is to never declare yourself to be the master of editing all books. At least if you’re an author looking at his or her own stuff. Professional editors are in another class because this is their specialty and they can adapt to an author’s style.
One of those questions that I really want to touch on is the 80% junking idea that seems to be matched up with ‘KILL YOUR DARLINGS’. The saying involves removing scenes that are the most self-indulgent because I guess people believe these never work. I’m really not a fan of this mentality since it’s become fairly warped over the years. There are those who do need to change a lot and reduce/eliminate the self-indulgent stuff to make a much better story. They do it correctly. Many mistake the phrase as being that you have to destroy the first draft regardless of quality and what works. It’s this weird idea that most of what you did first is terrible and only a sliver is worth keeping. I’ve been told by other authors that I NEED to eviscerate my works even if I’m happy with it because that’s how editing works. That’s not even remotely true. So, don’t think this is the best or only way to improve your writing. In fact, I think you’re more likely to junk characters and scenes that are really good, but need tweaking if you go nuclear on your manuscript.
My personal method of editing isn’t very consistent. I make a detailed outline that I edit a few times before writing, so this is a big reason I don’t ‘kill my darlings’. I’d even say that my first draft is the outline. Anyway, a lot of what I do depends on time. If I know time is going to be rare then I edit soon after I finish, but I try to do it within 3 months of finishing because continuity is important. I go very slow to make sure I catch typos and I jump back to earlier pieces if I have even a flicker of doubt that I messed things up. I had it off to an alpha reader or two after this because I really only want to catch typos and make sure things make sense. Again, I’ve already vetted all the scenes to make sure I cover the story correctly. I personally run through a story 2-3 times before I realize I’m making changes solely to do something. That’s when I know I’m done and I’m running the risk of causing damage.
Well, those are my thoughts and method on editing. What do you think of this necessary challenge?