Prior to starting edits on my novel at the beginning of this month, I knew next to nothing about editing. Oh, certainly, I had done some editing on short stories and essays before, and read umpteen articles on editing, but I had no experience editing a 116843 word novel. In all my planning and research, I had never had anyone tell me, “This is what it’s going to take.”
Though I’m still not anywhere near an expert, I now know basically what it’s going to take. All of you who have a finished novel that you’re preparing to edit—this blog post is for you. You’re about to start on a journey that will test and try you, and neither you, nor your novel, will ever be the same again. You should know what you’re getting yourself into.
It will be hard. You know those days when you’re working on your first draft, and every word seems to be painful? The days when you stare at your screen for hours, not managing to write anything regardless of how hard you try?
It will be like almost every time you edit. Thirty minutes of editing will exhaust you like three hours of writing. You’ll find yourself longing to just write something, and you’ll miss the flow of words dreadfully.
You will need caffeine. A lot of caffeine.
There will be days when you feel like you’re only making your writing worse. Be aware that you probably aren’t. But save a copy of your first draft, just in case.
You will most likely hate it. I know a few authors out there enjoy the editing process; perhaps you will be one of those writers. You most likely won’t be, though. Prepare to despise the majority of the editing process.
You will come up against decisions you don’t know how to make. During the editing process, you’ll probably change your plot, be it in ways large or small. At some point, you will almost certainly come up against a question (for me, it was, “Does she die?”) that you don’t know the answer to. You’ll debate about it for days. You’ll ask advice. You’ll second-guess your decision.
And, forgive me for restating my first point, but… Editing will be hard.
It will also be worth it by the time you’ve finished.
Your novel needs the editing. I mean no insult to your or your novel, but I don’t believe there has ever been any novel, at any point in history, that did not require editing. Editing takes an okay work and makes it good. Then it takes a good work and makes it great. You’ll be able to work out the flaws in your manuscript and make sure everything lines up; you’ll make flat characters three-dimensional; you’ll fix your writing mistakes.
“But,” you say, “you just spent half the blog post telling us how horrible editing will be. How can we make it easier?”
I am glad you asked, good reader. The fact that you want to know how to make it easier shows that you are brave, and still plan to edit your manuscript. Thankfully, there are ways to make editing less terrible.
Make goals. “Finish Chapter One by January 5th” works well, but I personally have been using “Edit for however-many minutes per day.”
Edit with friends. Then, when you get on the computer you can be greeted with, “Have you edited yet?” and you can ask each other, “Would you like to focus on editing for the next fifteen minutes?” While you may end up groaning every time the topic comes up, the best way to keep yourself on track is to have someone else keep you on track.
Listen to music while you edit. I’m a strong supporter of listening to music while you write. That goes for editing, too. I’m listening to the same playlist as I edit that I did while I wrote, which makes everything connect nicely. I have more or less the same mood while editing that I did while writing the novel.
Allow yourself to relax while editing. It’s perfectly acceptable to forget to edit for thirty minutes while you get caught up in reading your novel. Remember why you love your manuscript in the first place. Laugh at your characters. Love your story.
Do you have any experience editing? What did you learn while doing it?