I am almost finished with my first full edit of my novel and it feels so good! This is the fifth novel I have written during NaNoWriMo and the first I have edited in earnest. The previous novels have sadly all fallen by the wayside for one reason or other. But I have finally prevailed and I am so thrilled to be sending out my second draft to my alpha readers soon.
So, I wanted to dwell on some lessons I have learnt during editing. Although ‘lessons’ sounds so deep, it’s more a few observations.
- Editing is fun as long as you really commit to making the novel better. In the start of my editing process, I was inclined to just make notes ‘to add in later’, but then I got stricter with myself and forced myself to slow down and fix everything I saw was wrong. Once I had changed my mindset I really started enjoying the editing process.
- I need to stick to my detailed outline during writing. I tend to develop really detailed plans. I usually spend more time developing my writing plan and outline than I do writing the actual story itself. For me, the plan is almost like the first draft: all plot holes have been plugged and I have tested the story for inconsistencies. So when I deviate from my plan when I am writing, I invariably end up having to rewrite the story according to the original outline. So while writing my next novel I am most certainly going to stick to my outline.
- If something doesn’t work, it needs to be cut. I had a really hard time with this one. There were scenes I had written which I found so profound and beautiful, but they really did not have a place in the novel. I had to harden my heart and really cut the scenes that didn’t work in the context of the novel. I use the Scrivener program which keeps deleted scenes in a separate folder, so I can recycle them for another novel if I am really attached to them. (I tell myself that to make myself feel good, but in practice I never recycle.)
- Character development is key. The reason I ended up editing this novel in earnest – as opposed to all my other novels – was that I spent more time on my characters than ever before. During the outline of my novel, the main questions I asked myself was ‘Who are my characters? Why are they in this story? What are their goals?’ Using Chuck Wendig’s awesome guide to creating characters (warning: colourful language) I spent more time than ever on making sure I knew my characters. So when I wrote, I used the characters to propel the plot, not the other way around. Which in turn made for a much better novel with less inconsistencies, because I knew how my characters would behave.
- I need to trust myself as a writer. Before starting my editing I was scared. I was scared that when I read the story, it would suck. And yes, parts of it did really suck and I changed them. But parts of them were really clever and beautiful and I was so happy I had written them. I also very often made mental notes about improvements for the chapters ahead, only to find that I had already made those improvements while writing. So I sucked less than I thought I did, which is always a good thing.
I had a lot of fun editing this time around. I usually dread editing, as I start out thinking my story is unsalvageable. As any writer will tell you: no story is unsalvageable, sometimes it just needs a lot of work during editing. And as much as writing is fun, you’ll never get anywhere without editing. That’s when the real work is.