Friday, August 9, 2013

Editing Your First Draft

I used to hate editing. I'd write out the novel and it would be so bad that I was sure there was no saving it. The changes that needed to be made were so great, and sometimes I wasn't even sure exactly what those changes needed to be.
But now I've worked it all into a five step process that can save almost any first draft.
Before you start I want to warn you that this isn't for the faint of heart. It's probably going to be more work than you want to do...don't say I didn't warn you!

Step One
I've heard that writing a first draft is like building a house of cards, but my first draft always looks more like a game of 52 card pick up. It's a complete mess. So the first step in this process is a very long one.
Clean up the mess. Make the plot coherent, make the timeline precise, keep those character's names and physical descriptions the same throughout the novel, tell the story, tell all of it. Work on it until everything is perfect. It should be the best that mere mortals can do.
Yes, that's just step one. Now proceed to step two.

Step Two
Buy or rent Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass. But here's the hard part, you actually have to do the exercises and use them to make your book better.
I'll fess up here and tell you that I have not done ALL of the exercises in this book. I know, I'm so ashamed. When he wants me to "find six more inner turning points" I usually do about half that. So I'll forgive you if you don't do it all, but the more work you put into the exercises the better your book's going to be.
Once this is done you may proceed to step three.

Step Three
If you've read my blog before you've heard me mention Margie Lawson's EDIT's system. Check out her website and buy the notes (or take the class).
She's going to ask you to highlight your entire novel in a plethora of fun colors. Yes, your entire novel. This class really helps you take the pulse of your writing, so to speak. It can illuminate the weak points in your book, things that you can't see anymore because you've looked at it about a million times. Highlight that book of yours and then fix the problems that you've uncovered.
Once this is done you may proceed to step four.

Step Four
This is probably the step you're most familiar with (besides step one of course). You're going to give your book out to a few readers who will help you edit. Now don't give your YA book to your great Aunt Ida who doesn't know what Facebook is. Give it to readers who are actually reading your genre. And give it to them with specific instructions. Sure, let them help you out with grammar and description, but ask them specific questions too.  Are they bored at any time during the book? And if they are, where? Why? Do they actually WANT to read your book after reading the first chapter? Do they care what happens to your protagonist? Ask them what they like about the book and what they want to see more of.
Don't you dare just let them tell you it was great and move on! I mean it! There is always room for improvement!
Once this is done you may proceed to step five...almost done.

Step Five
I'm going to have to admit to you here that I'm not a very good writer. (This may already be obvious from my blog posts.) I slam my fingers onto the keys just to get the ideas on paper, just to write out the story. There's no time in my mind for pretty words. You may be different. If your words are already beautiful you might be able to skip this step, but I recommend that you don't.
If you haven't already read Writing Tools 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark then do that now and use what you learn. Otherwise, just go through your book with an eye out for making the words better.  Make sure you have chosen every word in that book for a specific reason.
Next, make sure that your book has at least five beautiful, magical, wonderful sentences. I mean the kind that you've read in a book before that you had to stop and reread. The ones that you savor, the ones that make you feel something that lasts. Now this step is not as easy as it sounds. These Shakespearesque sentences don't just fall from the sky. You'll need to ruminate on them for a while, but once you've added them... You're done!

Now that wasn't so hard, was it? Don't worry, you won't always have to do this much work, but try it on your current manuscript.  Your novel will be better for it.
I'll keep you posted as I go through these steps myself. Yes. I really do all this work! I'm only 50,162 words into my disaster of a first draft, but when I get to the editing you're going to hear about it.
Good luck and happy writing.

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