Don’t be discouraged by how long the journey seems. You have to start somewhere.
Congratulations of finishing your first draft, I know it probably took you a long time and a humongous effort to get here. And if this is your first time, you’re probably asking yourself, what’s next? What do I do now that the first draft is complete? The brief answer of course is edit. But it’s a little more complicated than it sounds.
First, it’s important to note that if you have just finished writing your book, the best thing to do is not to edit at all. Set it aside for a few weeks, let it out of your head completely. It will give you a fresh set of eyes when you get back to it later. The second thing you need to remember is that hard work only just begins now and that editing is a painstaking and redundant process, but, hey, it’s worth it, trust me.
I used to hate editing. In fact, the only novel of mine that I actually got around to editing thoroughly was my last one. I have edited that book over 15 times already, and once with the help of a professional editor. Here’s how I did it—and this is a compilation of advice I read or heard as well as thing I learned along the way.
Before you correct anything, and I mean anything at all, first read your book all the way through. Read it in one sitting if you could—I think I read that one in Stephen King’s On Writing. That way you can pay more attention to the holes in your plot. Make notes of these and correct them on the first round of edits.
On the second round of edits, I like to pay attention to characterization. Do any of my characters speak or act differently than they are supposed to? Did I mention that one character’s eyes are green then changed it to blue?
Look out for discrepancies like that. Keep a journal of your character’s descriptions and refer to it whenever that characters shows on the page.
On the third round, you can start paying closer attention to sentence structure and the flow of words. It’s a good idea to pay attention to the tone as well. Often times, our tone of writing reflects our mood on certain days. So if you were writing a murder mystery on a joyous day, you may detect—and the reader sure will—a change in tonality. The third round of edits is a good time to fix that.
It’s a good idea to have a trusted friend to read your work and share their opinions with you. Having someone who would critique your story, its structure, flow, characterization, plot, and spot those evasive typos will be very helpful to make your book much more presentable and professional when time comes for you to submit it.
The next round of edits can be mainly concerned with grammar and typos. Although, many writers suggest to do a full grammar and typo edits after every edit. So, for example, after the first edit where you only fixed plot holes, do a round of edits for typos.
It’s a good idea to let the book sit for a few days between every round of edits. I know it seems like the editing process is going to take too long that way, but that will only make it so much better. I actually found out that the editing process takes much longer than the writing process. With my latest novel it took me only thirty days to finish the first draft, but I have been editing this book for almost a year now. I have edited that book over a dozen times and I still feel that I have more things to fix.
To help me feel more confident about my writing, I hired a friend and a professional editor, Esther Newton, to give me an honest and professional critique. I recommend her, and the idea of hiring a professional editor to any writer. Don’t worry about the cost. It’s an investment in your career.
Final pieces of advice. Be ruthless and objective. Don’t think of the book as your own. Think that it belongs to a complete stranger. Don’t be afraid of the words “Cut” and “Delete”, in editing, they could be your best friends. Also, now that you actually finished your book, you can worry about what people would think of it. Read it out loud and imagine the reaction of your most judgmental family member as you utter every sentence. This could be bad, depending on how dysfunctional your family is. But generally, it would help you cut a ton of clichés you weren’t even aware of before.
Reading out loud is a good idea anyway, especially when it comes to dialogue. It will helps you hear the character’s voice clearer, and therefore adjust any discrepancies. Also, it will help make your characters sound more authentic.
There will be a time, however, when you’ll need to stop editing and trust that this is your finished project. Well, until an agent picks it up and suggests a few changes, then an editor picks it up and suggests a few of their own. But until then, enjoy the process and all that you will learn from it. Personally, I felt that editing my book helped me learn more about becoming a better writer than writing the book did.
What are some pieces of advice you can share about editing a novel?
Photos aren’t mine unless otherwise stated.
A year ago today, I got published for the very first time. After years of doubting myself, thinking that I would never make it, and piling rejections that I was not yet equipped to deal with, one little letter gave me just the kick I needed to carry on and showed me that persistence pays off. Even though the achievement was modest, I still look at the publication of my short story November 13th as the beginning of my writing career. The story still gets web hits very often and remained on the website’s top mystery stories for months.
I kept writing short stories and submitting them to publications. The rejections that followed didn’t affect me as much—they were still painful, but I consoled myself with the thought that one publication ought to accept my work eventually. Sure enough, one did. Then another, and another… Soon enough, I had editors approaching me to write for them, which was a major ego boost for me, especially since English is not my native language.
Don’t get me wrong, I still get rejected. In fact, I’ve been going through a rough patch lately. I had more rejections than I care to mention in the past few months. Out of everything that I have been through this year, being rejected definitely ranks as one of the worst. However, after a year of ups and downs in the writing business, I can confidently say that rejections don’t bother me as much, or at least I don’t take them personally. Sure, it’s painful when your proudest work sits on the editor’s desk for six months and then a rejection appears in your inbox, or when one appears on the next day of your submission, or when an editor can’t even take Sunday off and decides to give you the piece of news that is sure to ruin your weekend. But all in all, I move on, my reaction to rejections is, “How can I improve this story?” and “Who else can I submit this story to?”
My proudest accomplishments this year were an article about Lebanon that was published in The Mantle and another article that was published in a leading Middle Eastern women’s publication. I always console myself by rereading those two particular articles; it makes me realize how far I’ve come in a short period of time and how far I still have to go. There’s also the fact that I finished writing the first draft of two novels this year. Before, writing a novel seemed impossible to achieve. Now, I know that writing a novel—as daunting and demanding as it is—is not only possible but also a must. I finish every piece of work I start.
I’m hoping that I could finish my memoir before New Year’s Eve, that way I could say that I wrote three books this year. However, if that doesn’t happen, I will still have written two books, several articles, numerous short stories, tens of poems, and blog posts. So, all in all, I did well this year, especially given the events that I’ve been through– being in Lebanon amidst the turmoil and other personal incidents that almost ended my life. I’m very much pleased with my little achievements and I hope to have many more to share with you in the future.
How close have you come to your dreams this year?