I’ve mentioned the book On Writing on this blog a couple of times. I do believe it is one of the best books about the craft of writing and that all writers should read it once. One thing King talks about in this book is what to do after a first draft. Once the first draft is done, he suggests putting it “in a drawer” and leaving it alone for about 3 months. The next step is then to read the whole book in one sitting WITHOUT editing it.
Both of these steps take time and patience, and while leaving a book alone and then reading it straight through seem like easy tasks, I’m finding it much more difficult than I thought.
When I finish a first draft I’m usually very excited. It’s gratifying to have a completed project, and my new projects always feel like the “best” manuscript I’ve done so far. (While the more I write the more I improve my writing, but let’s be honest, not every book we write is pure gold right away.) Since I am a Pantser (When I write I don’t necessarily know where the story is going or how it will end) when I finish a MS I have a better sense of the plot arc. Many of my chapters tend to be me getting into some insignificant details that were fun to write, but I know most of these chapters will not survive beyond draft one. Through my ramblings I find ways to bring small details full circle, and the plot becomes clearer and more structured the deeper I go into the story. Therefore, when I finish a first draft, I want to go back right away and clean up the beginning. Although this impulse makes sense, it is still a wise idea to put the MS away for a few months. At most I’ll write a couple notes to myself on the bottom of the MS so I don’t forget what to look for later on.
The reason for leaving the MS alone is so when I come back to it I can see it all with fresh eyes. The day I finish a MS I’m too blinded with the joy of completing it that it’s harder to see where the errors are. After a few months, the book is still familiar enough that I remember the story, but those errors jump out more easily. It’s a good practice to let it sit, and while you wait you can always work on that new idea that’s been forming in the back of your mind!
I’ve gotten better at leaving my MS alone for a while, but my main struggle is with reading the book all the way through without editing right away. I don’t have the patience for this. When I see something I want to fix or something I want to add, I edit right away. I’ve literally added a sentence, and then a paragraph later I see the EXACT SAME SENTENCE my past-self wrote. Since I fixate on little errors, I don’t always catch the big-picture issues I would be more likely to see if I read the book straight through.
I’m going to start reading my middle grade fantasy project I’m coming back to. My theory is that writing this post will motivate me to stick to the plan, and maybe write another blog post about what actually happened when I’m done! I’ve officially waited three months without looking at my MS, and now I’m going to do my best to just read it. However, since I’m not (nor will I ever be) as discipled as Stephen King, I am making a compromise: I won’t do any line edits, but I will make notes in bold as I read so I remember what I can edit after I read the whole book. This way I won’t stress myself out thinking I’ll forget my editing plan. Hopefully this compromise will work, but I have a hunch I will cheat and do “just a little” bit of editing as I go…
What are your tried and true editing methods?