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Writing as a Journey: First Draft Editing

Listening to: Sara Bareilles – Little Voice

Mood: Content

I was MIA last week, mostly because I finished my YA Fantasy and needed to take a break. I likely won’t touch the ms again for at least a couple weeks so that way when I go back to do a round of edits before I send off to my CP for feedback I'll have more perspective. I always like to step away from a ms when I first finish it—as hard as it might be to want to go back in immediately and start making changes—so that my brain is fresh when I begin editing. I’ll start working on my next story or plotting an idea, anything to keep my mind from wandering to the newly finished manuscript.

Editing is a long process for me. On average I write 2-3 novels a year, but the editing part is what takes me the longest. For example, it took me three months to write Bloodbird, but it took me 9 months of my own edits and incorporating my CP, beta readers’ and publishing professionals feedback to get it to the place it is now. Of course, the truth of that is two-fold. First, I have a day job (like so many other writers) so my nights and weekends are the only time I have to write and edit. No shock there. Second is that I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I want the manuscript to be in the best place possible before I send it out, so I probably take longer than the norm but whatever. We all write different.

I love the editing process. I love growing the characters into people I’d like to meet in real life, making sure their emotions and actions feel real and authentic. I love building the world I’ve created into its own living, breathing thing. In a few weeks I will head back into my YA Fantasy, so I wanted to share with you all my first steps in editing before my CP gets her hands on my ms. You can do whatever you want, but a few of these tips might be useful to you.

1. I load the ms onto my eReader and read it once over the way a reader would. This means no editing and taking minimal notes only in places where I obviously need more emotion or action or whatever. This gives me an overarching feel of the ms and keeps me honest about whether or not the story arcs and plot lines make sense.

2. I dive back into the ms and adjust the glaring things I noticed in the first read-through. This is still just big picture stuff, no line by line editing no matter how much it pains me.

3. I print the ms out in hard copy form. I find that reviewing an ms in a format different to what I wrote it in helps me catch things my brain might not register otherwise. I pull out my handy red pen (I love my red pen SO much) and I go through my ms line by line and make notes, catch misspellings, grammatical errors, any dialogue or plots issues. This is the time when I take note of EVERYTHING that needs fixing.

4. I make the new edits and revisions in my ms and do another read-through (though just in the Word doc) out loud. Yes, out loud to myself. This is to help me catch anything else I might’ve missed in the first two reads/revisions and also ensures my dialogue sounds realistic and there aren’t any awkward phrases. You’d be surprised how something written on a page might seem great, but then you read it out loud and you’re like “Uh, that doesn’t work. What was I thinking?”

I’m sure some people think my process is a little excessive. I mean, I read through it three times before it goes to my CP. And she’s brilliant so there are always more things to edit and change. I’ll make a million more changes before the ms goes to my beta readers, and then I’ll make a bunch more. But in truth, this is what works for me. What I think really makes the story come to life IS the editing. That’s why we have first, second, and tenth drafts. My beginning process is only the first of a long journey to make the story the best it can be.

There’s a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that I’m sure most people are familiar with. He said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” That’s how I feel about writing and every stage of the process. It’s all about the journey. Enjoy it.

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