Start at the beginning
You never start on the last page. My mom had to say that to me all the time growing up.
I loooooved the first day of school: all those new school supplies and textbooks. I’m swooning just thinking about it! Anyways. I’d get home with my exciting new textbooks, turn to the back of the book, and proceed to freak out that I was never going to learn everything,
I’d do the same thing with piano lessons. Start a new book and turn to the back page, the most difficult piece and flip out because I didn’t know how to play it.
Mom would shake her head, roll her eyes—OK, I don’t actually know because she was probably in the kitchen making dinner so I never saw her face—and say, “That’s why you start at the beginning, so you learn the skills as you go. You don’t start on the last page.”
If I’m completely honest, it’s still a bit of a natural inclination of mine, to naturally think the worst when faced with something new. I can’t do it. And I get upset and worried and then I remember, “You don’t start on the last page.”
I used to think the same thing about editing. Fixing grammatical errors, cleaning up typos, sure, no probs. But actual editing? Re-writing sections? Fixing plot problems?
Where would I even begin? I might as well quit.
After a few minutes of flipping-out, I reminded myself that maybe I don’t know what I’m doing now, I don’t have to edit the whole manuscript at once. I just have to start.
On page one.
And that’s when I fell in love with editing.
You don’t have to love it, but you do have to do it
There are two kinds of writers. One loves first-drafting and the other loves editing. I used to be the first, but now find myself the second.
This blog post is specifically for the writers who love to first-draft and hate editing. Now, I’m not delusional enough to think that I’m going to convince you that editing is the greatest part of the writing process. What I am confident enough of, though, is that by the end of this, you will understand the difference between first-drafting creativity and editing creativity, you won’t dread editing to the point that you avoid it, and you will leave with helpful tools to get you started.
First-drafting and editing are two different beasts.
Writing the first-draft is about getting the words on the page. It is the time to live in the world of the story, to explore the characters and the plot. This is where you should feel the most free to create. No need to worry about perfect wording or description. Even typos can pass because you know things will change and get caught later.
First-drafting is like getting a lump of clay onto the potter’s wheel and working it into the shape of the bowl or vase you want to make.
Editing, then, is refining that lump of clay. Getting the shape and size just right. The thickness of the bowl just right. Adding the details to make it a beautiful piece. Firing it and painting it to make it perfect.
This is the time to show off your writing skills, bring out the power and strength of your story. Now is the time to put your research on display, ensure the strength of the conflict.
Where to start?
Every writer has a different process. My preferred method, whether I outline first or not, is to first get the words on the page. Even with a fairly detailed outline, I still use the first draft to go deeper, explore the character and the world.
My second draft is where I work out the plot problems. I figure out where the plot holes are, and if the story (and action) flows as it needs to. I’m a linear writer so it is rare for a scene to be out of place but if there are a few, this is where that is fixed. It is at this point that I usually add some scenes and delete the excess bits. The second draft takes several read-throughs.
Once I feel the plot is what I want it to be, then I move on to the third draft, which again takes several read-throughs. My third draft is where I flesh out the character and description. I will fix plot issues that come up here too.
And finally I move on to my fourth draft where I perfect the sentences, make them as powerful as possible, and fix the grammar and spelling.
That’s how I edit. Generally. But there are a couple of other tools I use, and I have used with my clients, to help them with the editing process.
The Editing Wheel
The editing wheel is great when you’re not sure where you should start the editing process. Draw a circle and cut it into eight slices, like a pizza or a pie. You can always add more slices if you need.
Designate each aspect of story to a slice. For example: dialogue, plot, description, conflict, character, theme. Then rank each one on a scale of 1 – 10, with 1 being that aspect needs a lot of work, and 10 being perfection.
Look at each of those slices and decide which one, if you brought it up one or two levels, would improve the rest of the slices. Even if your plot is at a 9, if you bring it up to a 10, will it bring all the others up? If your dialogue is at a 3 and you focus on that first, will it improve the conflict and plot and description.
I have a little one here as an image, but not to worry! i’ve got a bigger one you can download in my free editing toolkit here.
The Editing Chart
This tool can be used several times throughout the writing process. If you like to have a detailed outline before you begin, you can fill out this chart. I like to fill it out after my first draft. it helps me figure out where the plot issues are, what is needed to add, and what needs to be taken out because it adds nothing to the story. I revise the chart as I go through the editing process.
For each scene, list which character is your Point of View character for that scene. Where does the action take place. What is the internal conflict and external conflict. What information is being revealed about the character, world, or theme? How does this scene illustrate the story’s theme?
And guess what? You can download a copy of this chart as a part of the editing toolkit here.
I know that not everyone is going to love editing as much as I do. But editing is a major part of the writing process. You can avoid it, or make a few surface changes, because you hate editing. Or, you can dive in and make your book the best it can possibly be, and not hate editing the entire time.
Download your free editing toolkit and dare to be the writer you were meant to be. Dare to tell the story the way it was meant to be told.
Until next time . . . Happy Writing!