In a previous post, I offered a list of rules to follow to finish your first draft. Now that you have completed your draft, it’s time to clean up the mess.
As I stated previously, your draft is going to be messy. It’s going to need revisions. You’ll need to smooth out transitions, make grammar corrections, and deepen content. The revising and editing process can be daunting for some, but I’ve learned a few things over the years that have made the whole editing and revising process a little less painful.
Take a break. It’s a good idea to step away from the manuscript for a few days or even weeks before you jump into revising and editing. Work on another project. Take a vacation. Finish the to-do list that’s been hanging on your refrigerator for the last three months. Then, when you’re ready to revise and edit, you’ll see your manuscript with fresh eyes.
Get Organized. Clean off your desk and give yourself a comfortable space to work. Get all research finished before you start revisions, and organize all your notes. Have any grammar or reference books you might need within easy reach.
Clear your calendar. Tell your family and friends you’re busy, clear your calendar, and designate time to get the revisions done. Prepare meals ahead of time and freeze them. Hire a dogsitter. Send the kids to Grandma’s house. Do whatever you have to do to free up time.
Set a goal. Decide on a page count goal and stick to it. Don’t stop until you’re done.
Read and take notes. Read all the way through the entire manuscript once and make notes. Make a list of questions that need to be answered and scenes you need to add. Jot down places where you need to add more details. Decide where chapter breaks need to be. Stay connected to the story.
Take one bite at a time. Once you’ve read through the entire manuscript, break it into 20 or 30 page chunks. Focus only on these pages and look for specific things.
Play nice. Only let your internal editor come out if he/she promises to play nice. It’s ok to be critical of your work, but don’t change things so much that you lose your voice as a writer. Your voice makes you who you are.
Things to look for when revising and editing:
- Include the senses in every scene. Include details, but not excessive details. Leave room for the imagination.
- Make sure the plot makes sense. Every scene should move the story forward. Kill the fancy sentences that don’t move the plot along. Refer back to your storyboard if necessary.
- Keep your Point of View consistent throughout.
- Create believable tension on every page. Your characters should have goals and motivation, but there should be conflict that keeps them from achieving their goal. Keep their goal just out of reach until the very end. The reader has to want to continue the journey to see what happens.
- Prompts and hooks. Hook readers with the opening lines. Leave a chapter with a question. Make the reader want to know what’s going to happen next.
- Make your dialogue real. Eliminate small talk. Characters should speak their personality, gender, and age. There is nothing wrong with he said, she said, but use action tags or beats if you can.
- Balance dialogue, introspection, and action.
- Look for cliches.
- Ditch the backstory. Give the reader the tip of the iceberg by weaving in small bits of information. Let them wonder about the rest.
- Reveal character quirks and ticks.
- Make sure you don’t have too many story threads. All threads should lead back to the main trail.
- Create a balance between long sentences and shorter ones. See the example below.
- Tighten word choice. Eliminate filler words and use strong action verbs. Check for redundancy. Avoid flowery writing.
- Create smooth transitions.
- Edit for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and verb tense. Many sources suggest reading through your manuscript backwards to catch grammar and spelling mistakes you might otherwise overlook. And reading out loud allows you to hear errors you might not see through reading.
Once you’ve cleaned up the mess, let the book sit for at least a week before you read through it one more time. Then hand it to a critique partner who can give you constructive feedback.
Everyone has their own style when it comes to revising and editing. Some writers are very systematic, others are more relaxed about the process. Do whatever works for you. When I revise and edit, I end up reading through my manuscript multiple times. I concentrate on something different every time. My first read might focus on dialogue. The next time I read through it, I might add details or delete unnecessary scenes and sentences. There is no right or wrong way to clean up your writing. It’s simply a matter of preference.