Editing is the process of improving your draft. It’s about fixing mistakes and buffing the diamonds in the rough until they shine. A few key errors, however, can sabotage your best efforts – and your edits.
Skipping Your Break Time
Writers write. Even when we aren’t sitting at a keyboard, we’re thinking about writing, about pretty words and ugly characters. You’ll never stop, but you should give a first draft time to itself before you begin edits. Think of it as a fine wine or a particularly stinky cheese – it needs to breathe before you dig in.
This break lets those gears in the back of your mind tick over the issues you already know you face so you’re prepared to actually deal with them when you sit down to edit. It also gives you a conscious break. If you jump in right away, you may fail to see any problems at all, because it is what it is, and that first, powerful First Draft Mindset still rules your brain. On the other hand, without perspective, you may jump in assuming it will be as perfect as it felt when you wrote it, and suddenly discover that you – like the rest of us – are fallibly human. That disappointment may drive you to toss the baby out with the bathwater.
Neither scenario leads to your best work. Instead, use your step back to work on a first draft of one of the endless side projects that have been screaming your name while you labored on this one.
Forgetting Your Audience
The first draft is for you. It’s all yours. No one else ever has to see it, and it can be everything you wanted, or the mess you only half-cared to finish. Wonderful! It’s exactly as it should be, but now it’s time to think about the audience. Editing makes your dreamy, wild, indecipherable first draft into a novel others can understand and enjoy.
At this point, you should stop and consider who, exactly, your audience is. What age will your story attract? Do your characters speak to this demographic? Will the language draw your ideal reader into your tale?
Failing to Take Notes
Why take notes when you’re doing all the work right now? Well, the fact is, you aren’t actually doing all the work in this draft. You will revise again and again before you (or your editor/publisher) are finished. So, take notes.
These help you address vast, complicated issues you can’t possibly remember off the top of your head, like exactly where and when you drop key foreshadowing lines or how your theme evolves. Jot down thoughts, page numbers, chapter titles, etc. Maybe you have ideas for opening chapter quotes. Maybe you just need to remember what color eyes your nemesis has. Whatever. Use a pen and paper, a separate document, or even the commenting tools in Word’s editing functions. Take notes your way, but make sure you take them. They give you an edge in every following draft.
Letting the Darlings Live
This principle often gets taken out of context. It doesn’t necessarily mean butchering your favorite scene or executing a beloved character. It means remembering what you’re writing for, what the story’s about, and that adverbs usually signal weak verbs.
I like adverbs and adjectives. I can’t help it. Cutting them out makes my skin itch and my eyes water. But when I reread paragraphs trimmed down by purging these glittering distractions, it becomes smoother, easier to read, and more refined. I hate it, but it’s true.
Find your darlings – run-on sentences you stretch across half a page, specific character gestures they use entirely too often, excessive sighing, poetic rambles about nothing vital to the plot – and kill them dead. Be merciless, then treat yourself to ice cream as you get ready to do it all again in the morning.
You probably knew editing wouldn’t be easy, but if you keep these tips in mind, you won’t find yourself wandering back over the same passages, wondering why they don’t work, or what your beta readers see that you don’t. Keep perspective, cut yourself some slack, but kill those adverbs.