Writing Tips: Editing and Revising Your Story
In the past three editions of this "Writing Tips" series we have covered how to get started, crafting a story, and developing dynamic characters. In this edition, we're going to tackle what to do when you finish writing your first draft: editing.
Editing is a word that strikes fear into writers. Why? Because, as writers and authors, editing means we have to change our work. Editing should not be a dirty word. Editing is, in fact, a way to shape your vision into perfect (or near perfect) form.
When you have your first draft, and you've written the entire manuscript, the next step is to make sure it is revised and edited for as many errors as possible. When I say errors, I don't just mean grammatical. Sure, as a writer I still make punctuation or grammatical mistakes. They're common. Especially when you're feverishly writing, the words flowing from your brain to your fingers as you type. It's easy to make mistakes. We all do it. There's not one author out there, published or non, that doesn't make a mistake. We're all human, so we're going to have mistakes.
Errors come in all forms. Remember that. From grammatical and punctuation errors to story and content errors, it's common to have them. The more you write, the less mistakes you'll end up making. Practice makes perfect. Just get used to the idea that you're going to make mistakes and they can always be corrected. I know some authors out there are offended when they receive their edits back and see the red correction notations. If this happens, it's perfectly okay. Let's focus first on how to reduce the errors you make and what to do when you receive them.
After your first draft, the first thing you should do is breathe. Congratulate yourself because you just wrote a book! The next step actually feels harder than writing the manuscript in the first place. I say that because you're familiar with the story, so you know what's coming next. It's easy to miss errors as you go back through, mainly because you'll be predicting what's going to happen in the story and not focusing on the content of what you wrote. The second draft should be your review for errors in regards to content, story, and plot. It's easy to get wrapped up in reading your work and not focusing on the technical aspects of what you wrote. The best advice I can give is to take it slow and read it word by word. Your readers will, so you'll need to take the writer element out and make any changes as far as pacing. See if there are any plot holes, which are gaps in the story that make no sense or have no resolution. Let's look at the definition of plot holes:
In fiction, a plot hole, plothole or plot error is a gap or inconsistency in a storyline that goes against the flow of logic established by the story's plot. Such inconsistencies include such things as illogical or impossible events, and statements or events that contradict earlier events in the storyline.
There are some keywords in that definition we need to look at: inconsistency and contradict are two that stand out. If you have a character behaving one way and they behave another way out of character later on with no reason, this is inconsistent. It could cause the reader to lose interest with that character. Another example is if you have a character do something that unravels or contradicts an event earlier (or later) in the story. These are things you definitely need to think about as you go through the second draft for revisions. Personally, I focus less on the grammar and punctuation on the second draft than I do content. Sure, if I see a glaring mistake, I fix it, however, missing a comma or semicolon on the second draft won't matter if the story has plot holes.
Plot holes, ultimately, should be smoothed out during the preparation phase before you begin writing. Most story points, events, characters, and ideas should be planned out in advance. If you're like me though, you sometimes deviate from the outline or notes you wrote at the beginning and just let the story write itself. If you do this, be very careful because it's extremely easy to forget to add something or contradict yourself later on. I'm guilty of this and over time, and many mistakes later, have learned to sort of take notes of important events as I go. This keeps the revisions or rewrites relatively easy when I go back through the manuscript.
You may go back through on the second draft and absolutely hate something you wrote. You have a better idea and decide to write it in, changing the course of a scene or event. If you do this, make sure you smooth everything else out affected by your change, or your book will be inconsistent. I say this from experience.
Editing is hard.
Once you're finished with the second draft, take a break. Be it a week, two weeks, or a month- take some time off. Trust me, this is important. Time away allows your mind to focus on other things. It also allows you to sit down with your manuscript with fresh eyes, which is something you'll need. By taking a break, you'll be able to really focus and concentrate on the next draft, which could be the most important part of editing you'll do.
When it's time for the third draft (and you should never do any less than that), you're going to feel like the guy in the above picture. The third draft is tedious because you should not only be reviewing for content (making sure you got the second draft where you want it), but also now for grammatical and punctuation errors. I said not to worry about them in your second draft, because your focus should be more on the story, but the third draft should be everything. It's the draft you'll be sending to your editor. Wait... what?
Yes, that's right. Once you do three drafts, you'll still need to send it to an editor. So, you may ask why not just send it to them after the first draft? There will be fewer edits to be made and they will have fewer to send back to you. You'll want to send an editor the best manuscript you can. They'll not only be looking for the technical errors like punctuation and grammar, they'll also be looking for plot holes and inconsistencies. The more you smooth out and correct before sending, the better shape it will be in when you go to make final revisions.
When researching an editor, the best things to consider are:
1.) the editor's body of work- have they edited a fair amount of books?
2.) the editor's rate- is it a cost per page, word-count, etc...?
3.) the quality of the editor's work- read their reviews, recommendations.
In other words, do your research when finding an editor. Find one that will work for you, as well as work with you, to make your manuscript be the absolute best it can be. You want to find an editor that you can develop a good working relationship with, one who not only believes in your work, but you as an author. Finding an editor who has a good body of work is key, as you want someone who can help you shape your book for publication.
Never try to self-edit and go straight to publication.
Self-publishing is a viable option for author's, but you should never, and I mean ever, edit your own work and then self-publish. If you're going to self-publish, that's great, but make sure you hire an editor to edit your manuscript first. Like I said above, you know what's coming next as you read your book, so if you edit your own work, you're definitely going to miss something. Trust me, it's going to happen.
If you're working with a publishing company, that's great too. However, if they do not provide you with an editor, be it one in-house editor a recommendation for someone they use, you'll still need to find one before submitting your manuscript for publication.
You never want to put a book out there that is not as close to perfect as you can make it. Outside of the first three drafts, you never want to self-edit and then publish. I don't know of any publishing companies that will put out a manuscript that hasn't been properly edited, so you shouldn't do it if you self-publish. This is the biggest book killer there is. I've (personally) seen numerous authors suffer from this. They write their book and then they publish it directly without reviewing or editing, by a professional or they do it themselves. The quality of the book is greatly reduced.
So, no matter who you are or how you're getting your book out there, once you review and make your edits, have a professional editor go through it again. Once you get their edits back, make any necessary changes (most you should feel are helpful, especially if it's on something you missed), and then proceed to getting your book in the hands of the readers.
When I first started this writing adventure, I had no idea what happened after I had finished the book. I didn't know there was such a lengthy process from idea to completed work. It is just that: a lengthy process. However, the more you do it, the easier it becomes and the better you become at revising your manuscript. At the end of the day, the hardest thing is working on three drafts and then getting errors back from an editor. But, don't be discouraged. An editor is there to help you, so pay attention to their advice and do not take it personal. You may feel as if they're attacking your work, but they're not. They're doing their best to make sure the book is published and is as good as it possibly can be. Just remember that. Remember that the editor is on your side and they want you to succeed. They want your book to be enjoyed, so take their recommendations seriously.
You can do this, so get that manuscript done, edited, and into the hands of your readers.
Stephen J. Semones
This has been part two in a series of writing tips for aspiring writers. If you found this helpful, please take a moment and share. This article is not to be copied, edited, or reproduced without written consent from its author. Copyright (c) 2017 Stephen J. Semones