No one really enjoys editing, and if they say they do then they can’t really be human. Finishing a first draft is a marvelous feeling, but as soon as that first draft is finished, the real work begins. Editing forces you to tear into your work, become a fussy nit-picker, and generally do things you don’t enjoy. But there is hope. Here are a few ways to make editing less painful and more productive.
Map Your Plot
It’s easy to lose perspective during revisions. Which points did you already make? Where was this character when that thing happened? What are your subplots doing during this period, again? Try physically visualizing your work. Write down a list of chapters and then make sub-lists with all the things that happen in that chapter. Is there a twist in the primary storyline? Does a character have a revelation? Do you lay the foundation for major character development down the road? You can make the items in your sub-lists into little flashcards for easier reorganization, too. This method is great for things like theme development, but it’s also wonderful for making sure you haven’t forgotten any characters or subplots.
Test Your Chapters
Every scene should have a purpose. Don’t just shrug and assume that most chapters do something and move straight to proofreading. Good fiction isn’t easy to make, but great fiction takes much more effort. Try the ARISE method. A scene must have action, romance, information, suspense, or emotion to validate its presence in your finished work. Ideally, a scene will hit two or more of these points. Scenes that only hit one deserve additional scrutiny. Do you really need this scene? Is it actually doing what you planned? What will happen to the story if you take it out? They say you have to kill your darlings. The truth is, you only have to kill the lazy ones.
Read Out Loud
Very few people enjoy reading out loud. It’s a skill most of us happily left behind in grade school. Unfortunately, it really does work for editing, and you should try it. Your brain has tremendous powers, including the ability to make sense from garbled English. When you read aloud, however, your brain processes written material in a whole new way. This helps you find more typos, errors, and poorly structured sentences than you ever could through silent reading. You may feel a little self conscious, but remember: just because you have to read aloud doesn’t mean you have to read loudly.
Hunt Down Your Weaknesses
We all have bad habits. Even experienced, published authors have a few nasty pitfalls they have to scout for in their writing. If you can figure out your greatest weaknesses, you’re set. How often are your characters chuckling? Do you frequent drop an extra “that?” Look for any repetitive error and use editing tools to help you find more instances of it. Microsoft Word’s Find and Replace tools make great editing buddies. They let you sweep through a novel in seconds.
Now you’re armed with fresh tactics, and the work is waiting. Your first draft must transform into a better version of itself, and only you have the tools to help it. Editing may not be a lot of fun, but it makes all the difference between a polished work and a first draft.