This is the fourth entry in my Cover to Cover series which follows a story idea from inception until potential publication.
Several months back in my third entry, I talked about owning a first draft and how to get through it to the end. Well, in August of this year I finished my first draft. Allow me a moment to do a happy dance. I spent the next two months editing. I’ve made it publicly known to anyone that will listen how much I hate editing.
Something happened through the process though. I started to actually enjoy my editing sessions. “Love editing? I’d sooner feed myself to a chimera.” Maybe. But I’ll show you how I changed from an edit-hater to an edit-relisher.
1. Your First Draft Looks Uglier in the Morning
I’m sure you’ve been there. Writing your first draft, enjoying the hell out of it (as I’m doing now with my new project The Bloody Unicorn). All your characters are witty and intelligent, your plot is on point, and your prose is sharp. I think this may happen because of a natural high we get from writing a new story. Once that story has sat out in the sun for a couple of days, it might start to smell a bit. Your characters are rambling, the world-building doesn’t make as much sense as you thought, and there are rampant inconsistencies. Editing is like taking industrial strength cleaner to your manuscript. Scrub away the mistakes of previous months of work that you didn’t notice in your writerly drunkenness.
In my own experience, I noticed I suffer from “Character Overload Syndrome.” This has happened to me in almost every fantasy story I’ve ever written and continues to plague me. My solution was to go through my manuscript and determine if I needed all these named characters. Sure, I love Red Mulcor of Basilisk Tooth (or Guard #2), but maybe he deserves to be in another story. I had to ask myself some questions. Could I combine some characters? Would they be missed if I just got rid of them completely? All in all, I’m much happier with my cast than I was originally. Sometimes editing can make a huge difference in that regard. Even if you love your first draft (which makes you an anomaly) you may find that spending time editing allows you to make the parts you love sparkle that much more.
2. But I Love That Part (Said in Whiny Voice)
When I started my edits, I killed so many scenes that I personally enjoyed. I even eliminated characters I thought might be important. I shed a little tear now and again. However, “killing your darlings” exists as a phrase because if you don’t do so your novel may become “too precious.” I learned to love killing scenes. I was an indiscriminate serial scene killer. I guess I enjoyed slimming down a novel I felt had become bloated and plodding in some parts.
There may have been tens of thousands of words I’ve thrown out, but I think in the end I made the right choice. It’s hard to really know for sure until you get your book in front of critique partners and beta readers. In this case, trimming fat did wonders for my novel. I may even still have more trimming to do yet. The point I’m trying to make is, don’t be sad to kill scenes you love. You can always transplant them to other novels or find some way to rework them so that they’re doing the best work they can do for your novel.
3. Meat on a Skeleton
I consider myself a “skeleton writer.” Meaning in my first drafts, I do a lot of basic groundwork, write vivid descriptions when they come to mind, and focus on dialogue. This means in later drafts, I have to not only cut scenes, but also add scenes. It becomes this bizarre puzzle piece scramble. No, that doesn’t fit there. I need a new piece. Or this old piece got coffee spilt on it. It’s too soggy. Need to dry it out. (OK, I’m stretching for metaphors here.) When editing, it’s not always going to be about cutting, cutting, cutting. Sometimes you need to add more spice, more unicorn meat, whatever the case may be.
I did this a lot by giving my main character more time for narration. I feel like this has allowed more insight into my sole POV character and given me more freedom to explore the world through her eyes. In previous versions maybe her feelings felt more sparse.
Sometimes you need to add, sometimes subtract. I loved adding more than subtracting, but that goes back to some weird deep-seated resentment of elementary school math or something.
4. Hate It Until You Love It
Editing has to be done. If you’re an edit as you go type or an edit at the end type, it eventually has to happen. I dreaded getting to that point. But once I got deep into the edits I started to discover new things about my characters, cleaner ways to get from point A to point B, and even cooler ways to describe some demonic beast’s shaggy mane. Editing can either be like pulling teeth or it can be making the perfect sandwich. I like sandwiches better, so I’ll go with that.
The best ways for me to figure out how to love editing were the following:
a. The novel’s going to look so much better with a new coat of paint.
b. This scene is uglier than a bog hag’s back boils. Let’s cut it.
c. I think future readers will like this more if it’s not a horrific tangle of fishing line.
d. Edits are good. Repeat, edits are good.
5. Bonus: NaNoWriMo Editing (The Bane of December)
I know it’s difficult to jump right into editing after doing NaNoWriMo in November. Some people suggest letting it stew for a bit, while others say it’s best to do edits while they’re fresh. I’ve done both. I think doing edits in December has worked a lot better for me personally. The main point is to not let your NaNoWriMo project sit unattended for too long. You may find yourself victim to the Creative ADD faeries that may whisk you off to some other adventure.
This is probably the first novel I’ve written in which I enjoyed doing the editing. The reason is because this is the first novel I’ve completed from beginning to end without ever thinking, “Am I going to finish this?” Edits were always part of the equation and I figured I can either whine about it every day or learn to love the process in some fashion. To be honest, I still don’t completely love it, but I’m getting there. Kind of like my relationship with blue cheese.
Are there any surefire ways that you’ve learned to embrace the editing process, or do you still grumble your way through it? Share your thoughts below!
For discussion of all things fantasy-related, check out Philip Overby’s Fantasy Free-for-All.