Writing a novel is a herculean task in itself, but as any seasoned author will tell you, the true work begins after the first draft is finished. This is when you enter the realm of editing, a daunting but absolutely necessary step in crafting a masterpiece. This is the first in a three-part series on the novel editing process, and we’ll begin by discussing how to approach re-reading your first draft.
Step 1: Preserve the Pristine
Before you even contemplate opening that document and diving into the editing process, there’s a crucial step to take: save a clean copy of your first draft. This serves as a snapshot of your unrefined thoughts, which can be invaluable if you later decide that some of your edits were a misstep.
Also, it’s kind of fun to go back later and ponder what could have been.
Step 2: Embrace the Detachment
Now, it’s time to re-read. But before you start, take a breather. Personally, I aim to let the first draft lie undisturbed for at least three months. The aim here is to gain some distance from your work so you can approach it with fresh eyes, like a reader instead of the writer. Detachment allows you to identify potential plot holes, stylistic issues, or character inconsistencies that you might have missed while in the throes of creation.
Step 3: The Initial Read-Through
Once you’re ready, proceed to the initial read-through. Resist the temptation to edit as you read. This stage is about understanding the overarching narrative, the pace, the character arcs, and the general feel of your story. Consider reading your novel in a different format, like a printed manuscript or an e-reader. This might help you to engage with your novel in a new, reader-centric way — and take notes as you go.
I like to make grammatical changes only on this first read through, to get the 2nd draft as clean as possible. So at this point I’ll fix typos, obvious errors, syntax–but no deep plotting problems. That way when I go through it again, I’ve got a very readable manuscript to look at instead of a messy one.
- Use a Highlighting System: Consider using a color-coding or highlighting system as you read. For example, you might highlight character inconsistencies in one color and pacing issues in another. This provides a visual cue for areas that need attention in the editing process.
- Note Your Emotions: Jot down how each section makes you feel. If a section that’s meant to be thrilling makes you feel bored, or a romantic scene doesn’t stir any emotions, it’s a sign that those sections need revising.
- Read Aloud: Reading your work aloud can help identify awkward sentence structures or dialogue that doesn’t quite sound right. Your ear might catch what your eye might miss.
Re-reading your first draft is the first major step in the editing process, and it’s not something to be rushed. Take your time and approach it methodically. In the next post, we’ll dive deeper into the editing process, discussing the different types of edits and how to tackle them. Stay tuned!