One of the biggest differences between what I thought writing would be like and the reality of what an author's life is like is editing. In high school, English teachers teach minimal revision skills. And with the amount of information they're trying to pack in to limited class time and disinterested students, they're hardly to blame.
The point is, most students (in America, at least) come out of school not understanding how to approach intensive revisions. If you'd asked me ten to fifteen years ago what editing meant, I'd have said copy-editing and a quick check for continuity errors, that sort of thing.
Pause for laughter.
In case you're an editing innocent like I once was, here are some steps you can take in your editing process once you have a completed draft. You don't have to do all of these, or even in this order.
1. Outline your plot as it currently stands. Then compare it to a beat sheet, and plan how to adjust any pacing issues.
2. Write a one-sentence summary of each chapter/scene. Look at pacing, and how each scene furthers the plot. Is anything unnecessary? Does anything need filling out?
3. Examine the main character's emotional arc. What challenges do they face throughout the novel? Do they experience growth? A flat internal arc means readers may have a hard time investing in that character.
4. Find your novel's theme. What's at the heart of the story, and is it clear enough on the page?
5. Read over the draft, making notes on changes to be made. Don't do anything other than minor copy-edits at this stage, because it's a waste of time. If you're going to rewrite massive chunks--and there's a good chance you are--there's no point in perfecting sentences on this read through.
6. Start looking for critique partners. Once you have a draft you're comfortable with, and you feel you've done all the big revisions you know you need to, CPs can help you figure out what to do next. Build friendships and goodwill be being a reciprocal critique partner. Plus, it will help you flex your own revision muscles.
7. Let the manuscript sit for a week or two before diving back in. Coming at it with a fresh eye helps you see problems you might not catch otherwise.
8. If it helps you get your creative process flowing or to pin down themes, characters, or moods, make aesthetics or playlists, etc. Some people find them useful. Some don't.
9. Fill out character profiles to discover what's hiding under the surface of your main cast. When you know more about who your characters are, it comes across on the page.
10. Think about the setting. Is it important? Is it realistic? Do you know enough about the world you're writing? If you need to do some world-building, in between drafts is a good time to do it. Making up major aspects of how your world works can cause inconsistencies, and readers will notice.
11. Research appropriate final word count ranges. A draft doesn't have to be in the right range, but it's good to know if you need to cut or add to get to your target before you write fifty-thousand extra words and then realize you have to cut sixty-thousand.
12. Research and read about comp titles. You may not want to actually read comp titles as you're working, because it can be intimidating. Or worse, it can influence your own work and land you in copyright trouble. But if you don't have comps in mind already, you can still research online to find books that sound similar in theme, tone, plot, etc.
13. Keep reading in your genre. It's fun, and it's good research for what audiences expect from your type of story.
14. Make sure to keep your creative batteries charged.
15. If you want a boost of energy, researching agents and manuscript wishlists can help. Finding an agent who is asking for your story is a great kick in the pants to keep you going, even when revisions get tough. Plus, making a to-query list early on in the process gives you time to research potential matches and hopefully avoid pitfalls. Never send materials to someone you haven't vetted.
If you have revision process suggestions, let us know in the comments below!
Every Wednesday and Saturday we bring you an edit tip of the day. Be sure to check out the archives for our popular summer series of SHOW DON'T TELL workshops!