Whether you’ve just finished writing your first novel or your fifth, developmental edits can be intimidating. Remember, these are the big picture edits. For an overview of the entire editing process, check out this blog: Editing – What’s All the Fuss? During the developmental phase, you’ll be dealing with plot-holes and character issues, cutting the excess and filling out the missing pieces. It’s a big job, but a good strategy will help. Here’s a look at the five-part approach I take.
1. Send the manuscript off to the editor and take a break.
I’m definitely euphoric after typing the last word on my document. You should be too! Pop a bottle of champagne and take some time to celebrate this achievement. I’m also tired, both from writing a first draft that’s taken me the better part of a year, and from the story itself. I need distance from it, a fresh perspective. While the manuscript is out of your hands, work on another project, read your favorite author’s new book, spend time decompressing.
2. Assess the feedback.
It’s hard to receive criticism on our beloved story, even really good feedback from a trusted professional. When I get my document back from my editor, who I adore by the way, she usually starts with one complimentary comment, and then the rest of the manuscript is covered in red ink. It stings. Even though it’s her job. Even though I know she’s right. So, first I read through everything. I look for places where what she suggests matches things that already bother me about the story. I pay attention to her reaction to my characters. I pay attention when she says something doesn’t make sense. But I don’t start writing yet.
3. Let it rest again.
You may be on a tight deadline and think you can’t afford all this downtime, but you don’t need to take months or even weeks off from writing. A few days are all it takes for new ideas to percolate. Once the creative process begins to flow again, my enthusiasm returns and I can’t wait to get back to work.
I find that following a consistent approach here works as well. Start with broad strokes and back into the details.
- If you are making any major plot changes, draft those in.
- If a character needs work, review all their scenes and dialogue and make the adjustments.
- Work through the manuscript scene by scene to tighten your language. Shift passive voice to active where you’re able. Use powerful verbs.
- Cut out anything that drags or no longer serves the story.
- Read through the whole thing to make sure your changes are well-integrated and the story flows.
5. Rinse and Repeat.
You might have to go through this process a couple of times before you feel the book is ready. Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly when that is, especially with a first book. But, there will come a point when you and your editor agree it’s time to publish. If you aim for perfection, you’ll never get there, but if you’ve done the hard work, you’ll be able to stand behind your book with confidence.
You may have read through this post and asked yourself, “What about beta readers or critique partners? Where do they fit in?” Sending your manuscript to beta readers before submitting to an editor is a good first step. Or you might give it to both simultaneously and combine the collective feedback. For more on that, here’s another blog to check out: Getting the Most From Beta Readers and Critique Partners.
Developmental edits aren’t for the faint of heart, but ultimately the process will make your book better!