Last week I finished my novel.
I know, right? Cue the champagne, let’s start calling agents and–
Not even close.
You see, finishing a first draft isn’t the same as finishing a novel.
Finishing a first draft means you’ve taken all the bumf in your head about said book and you’ve put it down on paper.
Which, to be fair, is half the battle.
But now the real work begins. Especially if, like me, you avoid technical things like ‘plot outlines’ and ‘narrative arcs’ and tend to fly by the seat of your pants in the writing process.
Because the edit of your novel is going to take twice as long as the writing of it.
And it’s only now that I realise quite how much work this is going to be.
So here are your 5 next steps plus 2 awesome resources I’ve found that will help you if you’re at the same point of your author journey as I am, with a 329 page Google Doc and no idea how to begin the arduous process of editing.
1. Put your novel away and leave it the hell alone
This is stressed by authors everywhere. The key to good editing is having as objective an opinion about your novel as possible, and that’s simply not going to happen when you’re still in the flush of your final scene.
So put it away. Go and work on some cool mini-projects, like flash fiction or hell, even poetry.
The key here is simple: leave it the hell alone.
2. Start thinking in broad terms about the editing
Start thinking about the kind of plot outline you’ll need to reconstruct your novel into, especially if you haven’t had one in place yet.
There are a number of fancy looking diagrams you can have a look at, but more generally speaking, you want to make sure you have character conflict, motivation and story goal’s nailed.
Do you have a big, main story goal that the characters are working towards (and the villains working against?)
Do you have side-quests that your characters can fail to complete along the way?
Do you have a “all hope is lost, we’re doomed” moment that they use their learnings from all the side-quests to eventually overcome?
Do you have a sufficient downward curve, mapping the end of the story from the climax to the finale?
If your answer to one or some of those questions is “huh?” (which was my answer,) then I recommend you check this out.
3. Think about how well you really know your characters (and whether you need all of them…)
By the end of your first draft you should have a pretty good idea of who your characters are, how they act and most importantly: how they react to the assuredly horrible challenges you stick in front of them.
If you’re at the end of draft 1 and you have no idea how your Protagonist would deal with, say, the death of a beloved pet, being late for work or finding out they or their partner is pregnant, time to start delving into some side writing.
Side writing doesn’t have to feature in your story, but it’ll help you develop a backstory for your cast and turn any two-dimensional character three-dimensional.
Take them for a jaunt around the shops, write about the first time they fell in love, or how they lost their first tooth. It doesn’t have to be good writing, after all you’re not going to get it published, but it might help you work out any kinks you’re experiencing with them.
4. Make sure everything is serving a purpose
This is my major problem at the moment. I have a tonne of scenes that are, quite frankly, ‘filler’. They’re not pushing the plot forward, they’re not moving my characters towards the story goal and they have got to go.
Now, when you’ve spent hours labouring over them, deleting stuff sucks.
So here’s the trick.
Don’t delete them, not yet, just move them to the bottom of your manuscript, or stick them back into your notes file (however you prefer to work) and see if your story still makes sense without them.
If it does, then chances are you didn’t need those scenes.
But still don’t delete them!
Because I promise you you’ll get to the next project down the line and think, ‘didn’t I have a really nice way of describing someone crying in my cut notes?’
And BAM. You’ve breathed new life into your slush pile.
Here’s a great tool that’ll help you get down to the kernel in each of your scenes and make sure it’s doing its job properly.
5. Treat yourself to some reading
Some people can read when they’re writing, but I can’t. I’m like a sponge. A chameleon. I read Austen and the next day I’m writing beautiful, flowery sentences that make no sense coming out of the mouth of my very rough, slightly crass main character. I read Rothfuss and suddenly I want to create a whole new universe and drop my characters into it.
But guess what?
Once you’ve finished draft 1, and before you step up to the plate for draft 2, you can take some time and get back to reading. But this time as a writer.
Keep a critical eye as you’re reading. How are they using their characters to advance the plot? Is their novel plot driven, or character driven? How do they make their dialogue sound natural? Think about it as you read and then you’ll be able to apply some tried and tested best practice into your next round of edits.
That’s all from me my dears, I’m now going to curl up for a month and re-read the Sherlock books…
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