Ready, edit, go?

Back in July I finished the first draft of my novel. I can still recall the sense of puzzled joy at typing ‘The End’. It seemed so final, but there was a part of me that knew it was just the beginning. After printing a copy, I tucked the manuscript aside, happy to let it rest. I told myself that I needed perspective, and there had been a few short story ideas buzzing about my head that I wanted to explore. Oh, the heady delight of short stories which can be written relatively quickly, edited and tweaked, and feel finished. How I’d missed them.

But now the time has come when I need to get serious again and start phase two of the novel. I had managed to complete about half the novel during NaNoWriMo last year, and as November approached I made a conscious decision that I wasn’t going to participate this year. Instead of creating another tract of words that could form part of a novel, I was going to focus my energy on finishing what I started. I am usually a finisher, and the incomplete novel kept tugging at my elbow.

But where to begin? An online search on editing a novel brings up a veritable avalanche of responses. These vary from vague outlines to incredibly detailed steps which if faithfully carried out over 31 days will result in a novel that is fit to make its way into the world. The best approach for me will fall between the two extremes.

My plan is to read my novel. This sounds obvious, but what I want to do is read it in its entirety, avoiding my usual impulse to edit as I go. I want to revisit the themes and broad arcs of the story. A couple of weeks after finishing the first draft I was walking my dog when it occurred to me that the person that was the main character in my mind hadn’t developed or changed quite as much as another character. What if I had the wrong main character? These are the thoughts that come to mind when I think of cracking open the manuscript, and they could be just the tip of the iceberg. Or it could be better than I think.

What I want is clear in my mind. I want to get the novel to a point where it is ‘finished’ enough to pass on to a beta reader for feedback. I want to get it to the point where I feel that I have done all that I can to make it as good as it can be. I know that this process will not be easy, and that it will take time that is increasingly difficult to find, but I also know that this is something that took months to create and it deserves the application of time and energy in order to complete it. In essence, I need to do the work.

I know that I’ll get there. Now I have moved on from being overwhelmed by the scope of it, it feels less daunting than before. I’m finally ready.

How do you approach big creative tasks?

[Photo: waratah spotted at Blackheath – they are glorious beacons this time of year]

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8 thoughts on “Ready, edit, go?

  1. I prepare by going through a de-clutter process, both physically and mentally. I clear my desk of any distracting items and clear my immediate to-do list by taking care of quick tasks. Your idea of taking a walk works too. I also tune into the time of day when I am most focused, and try to arrange for that time to be my starting point. Once I’m on a roll, the time becomes irrelevant.

    But everyone has to find their own way. Good luck!

    • Thanks, Gail, for sharing how you approach a big task. I like the idea of clearing the decks so you are clear to concentrate on the job ahead. And the idea of lining it up with when you are mentally sharp and focused at the right time of day for you is great too. I’ll be borrowing and trialling some of these suggestions! Cheers & thanks 😊

  2. I think you just break the task down into smaller parts that are easier to complete. Novels are so long that they can be intimidating, but if you focus on one aspect at a time, it can be easier.

  3. Well done for finishing. It’s a real milestone.
    I finished my first novel in March. My approach to editing was to print it, leave it and then I read it aloud, one chapter at a time. I found that really helped me hear it and I picked up on loads of things that your eye skips, like the missing words your brain puts in as you read in your head. Reading aloud also really helped me spot clumsy sentences or paragraphs.

    What it hasn’t done is let me see the holes in the plot or poor character development. I need someone else to spot those.

    Good luck.

    • Hi Martin, thank you for reading and for your detailed response. Congratulations on finishing your novel too! It was really interesting to hear of how you approached the editing, and I like your idea of reading it aloud. It isn’t something that I would have thought of due to the size, but by breaking it down, chapter by chapter, is a great way to do it. I will definitely give it a go.
      Best of luck with your novel and I will continue to watch your journey with interest.

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