Hello, friends and fellow #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop writers! I’m sorry I wasn’t around last month, but I was kind of swamped finishing the first draft of my novel! (How’s that for burying the humblebrag?)
But I’m back this month, and so are lots of other writers with fantastic thoughts and advice. I encourage everyone to go and check out the Blog Hop’s main link for more!
So yes, after a couple of years of struggling to put the pieces together, I finally managed to finish a complete draft of my first novel. And since I’m finding myself a little bit pre-occupied with that, I thought that rather than try to fight the tide I’d give in to the inevitable and share the editing advice that I’m trying to put into practice right now.
The first piece of wisdom is something I’ve heard passed around for ages and ages: don’t try to dive straight into editing after you’ve finished writing. A writer needs some time to clear her head so that she can look at the work with, if not objectivity, a certain distance. I had planned on giving myself two months for this, and I’m not quite sure I’m not making a mistake by going back so quickly. I found myself dreaming about things I’d written and how I wanted to adjust them, and it seemed like too much work to force myself to avoid it, but I might have done myself a disservice here.
The second bit of advice, which I’m doing much better about following: don’t worry about the details yet. A first draft is really supposed to be the bones of the story, and it’s got a long way to go before it will have muscles or skin, much less hair and makeup. Given that, it doesn’t make very much sense to fixate on word choice or sentence structure. The first editing pass is about seeing if the skeleton is solid; do the chapters successfully carry the story from the beginning to the end? Is the pacing as quick or relaxed as you want it to be? Are the characters interesting? How many plot holes still need to be filled in? Have you just plain forgotten to include something?
This is obviously an area where planning vs pantsing will come into play. I know that there are people who write solid first drafts that don’t need to be attacked with a sledgehammer. To you, I say: harumph.
My personal take on the subject is that worrying about specific words, sentences, points of grammar or style, are ultimately just a waste of time. I feel almost certain that I’m going to need to rewrite significant portions of my first draft to deal with mistakes I’ve made in chronology, plot, logic, character, pacing, &c.
Also, most of my first draft is written in the 3rd person present tense, and my final novel is going to be in 1st person past tense, so almost literally every word is going to need to be adjusted to fix that, if nothing else.
(I’m not entirely sure if that was a good idea, but it’s too late to fix that now!)
The third piece of advice is more of a collection of tips that I’ve pieced together from a variety of sources, including several #AuthorToolboxBlogHop entries from past months. Kristina Stanley, Cheryl Sterling, and Louise Brady come immediately to mind, although they’re by no means the only ones!
It comes in the form of a list of questions I ask myself as I’m reading through each chapter. They are as follows:
- What do I want to happen in the scene?
- Is that actually happening? If not, what else is happening?
- What do I think is the point of this chapter/scene?
- What point does this chapter/scene serve narratively?
- What do the characters think is happening?
- How does this scene advance character development?
- How does this scene advance plot development?
- What does this scene assume the reader already knows? Do they know it?
- What does this scene imply, that I’ll have to remember to maintain further down the line?
- Does this scene make sense?
- What would happen if I cut this scene?
- What do I like about this scene?
- What don’t I like about this scene?
- How do I fix #13?
As I’ve been reading through my first draft, I have a separate document open beside it, where I write down the answers to those questions for each scene. Sometimes my answers are more thorough than others, and I’ve definitely used them as a chance to tease myself or complain to myself for future drafts.
I’m probably not as funny as I think I am.
But forcing myself to look at each piece as the next piece in a puzzle, the next car in the train, feels like it’s really helping me to edit The Novel as a whole, rather than getting lost in the minutiae. As brutal as it is to look at a bit of awkward writing or sloppy dialogue, it really doesn’t matter if people sound like robots in a scene that’s going to get cut completely or reworked into unrecognizability.
My plan for my second draft is to go through, again scene by scene, and try to put my notes into practice. Hopefully, I’ll have left myself a set of guidelines that will be clear and easy to follow. And then the writing will be effortless, and the results will be articulate and poignant, and my novel will sell in weeks, and life will be glorious forever.
A girl can dream, right?