Okay, so that title was pretty much clickbait.
But I’ve just finished the second draft of my novel, The Stars Fill Infinity, (if you’re interested, you still have two more days to sign up as a beta reader) and I learnt some new things while I was working on these revisions, which I thought I’d share with you, since I know some of you are going through edits at the moment. I can’t make the editing process perfect, because no one will ever have a perfect process, but I can, hopefully make it better.
Have a Plan
This sounds a bit simplistic, but in my opinion, it’s absolutely vital and I often overlook it. There are some of us who like to outline copiously before starting a first draft (here I raise my hand) and there are some of us who find that outlines kill their creativity, either way, I think is fine for writing a first draft. When you’re scribbling madly through NaNo, trying to write 50k worth of words in a month, the discovery process is fun! All sorts of new ideas can come to you and you’re free to add them in as you wish. The outlining process is also fine (some, again myself included, would argue that an outline is the #1 way to write faster during November), it provides a structure that you can adhere to and you can always add a little plot twist in later if you like.
So, if you’re a discovery writer, or pantser, or whatever you want to call yourself, I don’t condemn you (though I do think you’re crazy). But in my opinion, the discovery approach does not work after the first draft.
The thing about second (and third and fourth and fifth) drafts is that they need to be planned in some way shape or form. You can’t just open a new document and plunge into a rewrite without having any idea what you want to change.
What I did, after I finished the first draft of Stars, was send it to some readers that I trusted and then take a six month break. Occasionally, during this break I opened up the document and read bits over, or I chatted with my readers. By the end of the six months, I had a pretty solid idea of the things they liked, the things I liked, the plot holes, the character inconsistencies and so forth. I made a physical checklist in one of my notebooks, and then began rewriting.
Aside from this plan I made for rewriting Stars, I also have a general outline I follow for all my novels (theoretically. I never actually completed a novel, according to this outline). Basically, this is how it goes:
1: Write whatever comes to mind.
2: Fix major plot holes and character inconsistencies; strengthen themes
3: Focus on minor plot holes and inconsistences; continuing strengthening themes
4: Focus on worldbuilding, setting and (you guessed it) themes and message.
5: Begin work on grammar and prose
6: Copy edit
This gives me a guide to follow, helps me focus and also alleviates some of the stress I feel when, on the second draft, I realise that my worldbuilding skills are terrible (which they are). Instead of worrying about it all at once, I’ve broken it down into different focuses for different drafts.
This is just my plan though, feel free to experiment with different ways of doing things until you find something that works for you.
Get a Partner To Talk Things Over With
This could be one person or two, or three or all twenty-seven members of your extended family. They don’t have to be a writer, but preferably they would still be a reader. And they need to be someone who actually wants to help you and is able to be honest (as nice as praise from the old ladies at church is, it’s probably not that helpful in terms of editing).
This person doesn’t need to have actually read your book, but they need to know enough about it that they’d be knowledgeable enough to help you. For me, my sister is one of these people. She loves my characters more than I do, especially the characters I struggle with liking (looking at you, Justice). Other people would be the readers I mentioned in the last point. I asked them to fill out a form at the end of reading my books and that was all, but they’ve have stayed close by me in the editing process, offering their two cents worth, answering more questions, bouncing ideas off me, etc. I haven’t always agreed with them, but they are invaluable supports.
The fact is, other people see your story differently to you, so they are able to provide you with another perspective and that perspective can be immensely helpful.
Know Your Vision
This one is easy to forget when so much editing advice consists only of “Get rid of passive voice!”, “banish these 43 words from your prose!” etc, etc. When I talk about vision I mean: Why did you write this book?
For me, writing Stars came from a desire to write about justice in a similar way to Victor Hugo, but aiming my message at the YA crowd. My vision has expanded since then and now I’m writing Stars and it’s sequels based on justice, mercy and humility, but my vision hasn’t changed, just grown.
Knowing the vision–the reason behind your book–is important in editing, because sometimes we (at least, I do) get so caught up in changing and rewriting and making this sound better and making that more logical, that we drift away from what we originally started out to do. That’s the bit where I start to feel disillusioned with my story, wondering if it will ever be better, or if I’m just making it worse, or whether I should give up.
Stars centres around three themes: Love, justice and hope. When I remind myself of those things, I remind myself of the reason why I decided to write this book. On the whiteboard on my bedroom wall, I have written: “Hope–a light when all other lights go out”, to remind me of the nature of hope. In my notebook, I have written down the passage from 1 Corinthians 13, that speaks of being clanging, empty symbols if we haven’t got love. I remind myself of all the times that God speaks in both the New and Old Testaments about justice for the poor, the widows, the orphans and the aliens (as a little kid I assumed this must have meant justice for the little green men, but apparently not). All of these things are reminders for me of why I am writing.
In the midst of editing, it’s very easy to lose focus. Trust me, editing is like slogging through quicksand, trying not to drown and trying to get enough sleep. But it can be done. And it may take a long time, but I think remembering these three things will help you as much as it helped me (at least, I can hope).
It will not, unfortunately, make your editing perfect, but hey…we can’t have everything.
Your turn! What are some of your editing tricks? Do you agree with my three points? What’s the vision of your story?