I’m a naturally lazy person. I try to find the most efficient way for everything, whether it be my route to work or cooking my dinner.
This also translates over into my writing and editing. After a bit of trial and error, I have found what I believe to be the quickest way to get from first draft to a solid final draft.
Bonus: Taking on the mammoth task of editing and breaking it down into four easier chunks makes the whole process feel a lot less daunting.
Write your first draft. Just write through, don’t reread or edit as you go. Make notes if you have to about things you intend to change, but don’t bog yourself down by trying to make things perfect the first time around, otherwise you’ll freeze up and won’t write a thing. Give yourself permission to be crap if you need to, because you’ll have the confidence you’ll be able to fix it later.
This is the big picture draft. Generally, I find I don’t have to reread the manuscript before leaping into this stage, because I’ll already know what needs changing where (since I made notes as I was writing the first draft).
Here is where I add new scenes, move conversations around, cut things I need to cut, change certain emotional beats. I even rewrite scenes I know weren’t working the first time around.
By the end of this draft, you should have the structure of your manuscript fairly locked in.
This stage is all about flow. At this point, you will have to reread your manuscript (time-consuming, but worth it). This stage is best done in large chunks, rather than bits at a time.
Don’t focus on any word or sentence-level stuff. At this point you need to read through for the overall flow of the story. Pay attention to character development, plot, emotional peaks and troughs. Try to experience the book in a way a reader would.
Is your character development consistent? Does your plot make sense? (No gaping holes you forgot to plug?) Are the emotions through the book too one-note, or do you pull the reader along with the emotional flow? What about your pacing? Does any point in your manuscript sag?
As you are reading, make whatever changes you need to. Sometimes this will just be a sentence or paragraph here and there, and sometimes it will require more rewriting than you thought. Don’t panic. Either way is fine.
But don’t move onto the next stage until you are happy with this one.
This is the level in which you work on all the sentence level stuff. You won’t be distracted by flow or consistency issues. Now you can concentrate on making the writing shine. Go through sentence by sentence and really make sure everything is completely clear to the reader, and that your prose is as good as it can be.
Once this is done, you should be ready to send to your editor for final checks.
Now, obviously, this is my way of doing things, not necessarily the best way. (As I said, I’m naturally lazy). I’m sure there are people out there who put a lot more effort into editing their manuscript.
But I feel that as long as you go through these four steps, making sure you are happy with each stage before moving onto the next one, then you will come out the other side with a truly solid manuscript.
This post is brought to you by the fact that I am in stage 3 of editing Guarding Sierra this week.