Today, I’d like to have a chat about editing. It’s coming up a lot amongst my writer friends and I feel like it’s a helpful discussion topic. (And I think giving a break between each two postings of The Last Heir is a good idea, so expect that).
There’s a bunch of different types of edits, but we’re not here to talk about that today. I want to give some (hopefully) useful tips on my personal experience and the mistakes I feel a lot of people (myself included) have made. Everyone is different, and everyone works differently, so take all of this in the context of me talking about my own experience, not setting down the law.
Lesson 1: Never Stop Editing
I know how exciting it is to finally finish your work and want to get it straight into the hands of agents and publishers. Don’t. You can never edit enough, the work never stops. Obviously, at some stage it has to, however that won’t be for a while. So reign it in, sit tight, and get some work done. Don’t stop editing until you’ve done it over and over and over again.
Lesson 2: Time Is The Great Revealer
Alright, you took the advice. You’ve done an edit or two, one for character development and plot, the other for dialogue and grammar. Now, put your book down and don’t pick it up for a month or two. Three, if you can. Keep writing in between, work on a little projects that you’ll enjoy, then come back to it.
This will (ideally) draw your attention to some problems when you return to re-read your work. This was the experience I had with my first novel. I learned lesson one, edited and sent it out to agents some more, then grew disheartened and stopped. And when I came back, oh boy. Oh boy.
No wonder no agents or publishers had picked it up! It wasn’t particularly well written (I’d spent a good half-year away and my writing skills had greatly improved during this time), the plot was trite, the characters generic and dull. And the dialogue. Man, the dialogue…
Hopefully you won’t have an experience exactly like this, but stepping back for a while before your third or fourth edit is going to show you a lot of bits that need work (Speaking of which, try an out-loud read for you third. It takes longer but, trust me, it’s very helpful).
Lesson 3: Let Other People See It
It’s always good to share your work with a few different people, especially those that read (and especially especially those that read different types of work). This will give you some outside perspective, and having a second, third and fourth set of eyes will help pick up on that grammar you’ll miss or small typos. Most importantly, you’ll get feedback on the plot, the flow, and if scenes should be moved or changed or gotten rid of entirely.
Try to get a few people from your target audience to read through it, but having others who read a lot of different genres will really help, too.
I get nervous letting other people read my work, because negative feedback is never fun, but it is necessary. Which brings me to my fourth lesson –
Lesson 4: Don’t Surround Yourself With Yes-Wo/Men
Positive feedback is great, but it’s not very helpful if that’s all you get. You need that constructive feedback, you need to hear what people have a problem with in your story. If you surround yourself with people who gush over your work while offering no real ‘negative’ feedback, you’re not helping yourself at all.
It’s hard to learn to take it, but it’ll be one of best things for your writing once you get through your fear of not being good enough.
Lesson 5: Never Stop Editing
‘Haven’t we gone through this one already?’ I hear you ask.
Yeah, I know. But it’s important. Even when you think you’re done, edit again. And after that? One final edit. I would recommend an out-loud read for your very final edit, too. It means you really read each word, helps you pick up grammatical errors and typos that your brain autocorrects when not reading aloud, and it’s a lot of fun to voice your characters.
Even after all of this, you may still not be done, but you’ll be most of the way there. At any rate, you’ll be ready to look into showing your work to agents or publishers, or self-publishing. This process can (and, personally, I think should for your first one or two times) take years but it’s the most important thing you can do to better yourself as a writer.
tl;dr – Edit. No, seriously: edit your stuff, damnit.