So, you’ve finished your rough draft and set it aside for four to six weeks, keeping your writing juices flowing by working on another project or the beginnings of a blog, and now you’re ready to go back to your unwieldy lump of clay and begin fashioning it into something recognizable.
However, there is one thing we need to clear up right now. . .
You’re Not a Genius
That’s right, you’re not another Mozart or Shakespeare. Words and sentences don’t appear in your mind as if dictated by God and delivered unto you by angels. Don’t get me wrong, you may have talent and you may be highly creative–your manuscript may contain some inspired moments of artistry–but it’s not perfect. Most likely it’s far from it.
And your proof? That rough draft you’ve got sitting on your hard drive? It sucks. And there’s no way in this world that it doesn’t suck, especially compared to where it will be once you’ve finished your final draft.
Of course, your rough draft may suck less than mine, but that doesn’t mean it’s ready to be seen by anyone. Stay patient and keep working. Don’t show it to anyone yet–it isn’t ready. You’ll only set yourself up to be discouraged.
Editing is a Process–a Long One
Editing is not a one and done thing; it’s a process that begins the minute you type The End on your rough draft. It begins at the end.
You will spend a great deal of time in the editing process, so remember to keep your patience. After all the months and months of writing, there’s no point in rushing this thing now–doing so will only make matters worse and your book will never become all it can be.
Read Your Rough Draft
Reading your own book can be a delirious combination of excitement, anxiety, and pain. At times, you’ll want to throw the whole thing into a fire pit, but don’t do it! Remember, it’s actually supposed to be bad at this point.
As you read through it the first time, refrain from taking note of every single spelling and grammar mistake. You’ll get to those things on the next pass or the one after. For now, read for the big picture, the plotting, and the characters. Find the overall theme, if you can.
Work from Big to Small
When you’re done reading it once, go to your computer and work through the manuscript. Stick with the big ideas at first. Keep an eye on the story itself. Is there a story, or is your draft just a collection of events that lead to an ending?
Chances are, your rough draft will be much closer to the latter than the former, and that’s to be expected. Those big events are where you’ll find your plot. Begin to connect those parts into a coherent throughline, so that each event leads logically and naturally from one to the next.
Go Back and Do It Again
Once you’ve made a pass through your manuscript, do it again…and again…and again…each time using a finer tooth comb. You’ll weed out all those pesky details like unnecessary commas or repetitive adverbs. Find your tendencies and shake them up.
You may also realize whole sections are unnecessary, or perhaps you need another chapter to help a transition. Only keep what is necessary for the story. The story is your boss.
You’ll find certain characters add nothing or perhaps you’ll find they all sound the same. Dialogue needs to be punched up, action needs to be tweaked, descriptions need to be touched up, or character relationships fine-tuned. Your block of clay should methodically start to come to life, little by little.
Like a sculptor working on a bust, your head-shaped hunk of clay will gain all the details that signify a real person–the crow’s feet, smile lines, curls in the hair, and a twinkle in the eye.
At some point, you’ll be so tired of going over your manuscript, you’ll believe you’re losing your mind, and you might begin to see diminishing returns. Even the word “said” will start to look weird to you. That’s when you know it’s time for someone else to read it.
If you’re planning to get your book published, one thing you will want to think about once you’ve gotten deeper into editing is the length of your novel. In publishing, they talk about word count–which is, as you might guess, exactly how many words are in your book.
Generally speaking, 80,000 to 90,000 words is the sweet spot for most adult fiction. Less than that and it’s getting a bit short, more than that and you’re getting a bit long (and, honestly, your novel could probably use some cuts).
You might point to JK Rowling’s and Stephen King’s books which are often longer, but those are exceptions based on author popularity. You’ll recall the first few Harry Potter books were much shorter.
Some world-building genres, like epic fantasy, do have expected word counts above 100,000, and the young adult genre might expect word counts lower than 80,000. Do some research online to find typical word counts for your particular genre. It may seem like an artificial thing to worry about, but you don’t want your book to scare away potential publishers or agents due to the number of words.
That’s it. You’ve written your book. No, it’s not ready to be published–not even close. You’ll want to get it in the hands of some readers now–usually friends, colleagues, and family will do just fine–and if you plan to send it out to agents, getting a good line edit from a pro will be essential. You want to send out a clean copy.
But it won’t end there.
If you land an agent, he/she will give you notes and ask you to make certain changes based on his/her ability to market your novel. And if your agent gets you a contract, the publisher will send you through several more rounds of edits and re-writes. That whole process will take at least a year or two, if not more. A good many people will have their hands on your creation, so thicken your skin.
But that’s all way down the road. For now, be proud. You’ve written a novel, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. These tips are obviously very general, and I kept them that way for a reason. No two authors will have the same experience but if you follow these general guidelines, I think you’ll find the process of writing a book will be much easier than you ever imagined.
Do you think any of this sounds particularly difficult? It is and it isn’t. Like I said before, it’s a matter of sitting down and doing it. Often that’s the hardest part of all.
Good luck! And please sign up for my newsletter below!