The Key To Editing Your Novel? Stop Writing, Start Reading
So you’ve just finished writing your first draft. You know things aren’t perfect and want to get it to the next stage as quickly as possible. What do you do?
If you’re me, you’ll spend months (okay, years) editing it on and off. Making improvements, restructuring the story, making your characters stronger. There’ll be mini-miracle moments where everything clicks into place. There’ll be black holes of despair where you want to just give up.
But the main thing is you’re making progress, right? Wrong.
What I should have done, is take one big old step back and put the figurative pen down. I’ve realised that having a proper read-through is the only way to truly look at your book through your readers’ eyes. It takes the focus away from chapters being ‘well-written’ and makes you really look at your book as a whole.
How does it flow? Does every page make you want to turn to the next one? What parts work? What parts really don’t?
It’s so gobsmackingly simple and yet the thought of just sitting back and treating my novel as a finished book, rather than rushing forwards with editing, never really occurred to me. I was so eager to start fixing it that I sort of missed the whole point.
So, lesson well and truly learned. Next time, I’m going to do this before I even think about getting my red pen out.
Golden Rules For Revising Your Novel: The Read-through
- Print your manuscript out if you can (better yet – double space it and print as a literary agent would see it)
- Think of it as a new book – no skipping parts, read it from beginning to end like your readers will
- Read it as quickly as possible – or set yourself a deadline and try to stick to it, you’ll lose the flow if you read it months apart
- DON’T EDIT! Okay, this is incredibly hard, but you won’t get a true sense of your story if you keep rewriting every other chapter as you go. Highlight sections that need to change, make light notes if you have to – but leave the pages relatively unchanged, there’s time for that later
- Have some clear ‘Book Club’ style questions in mind. For me, I really just wanted to highlight any major plot holes and areas for improvement, but it did help to have a few questions in the back of my mind when reading. A few ideas:
- Are the main characters consistent? If they change the way they act, speak, look – is there a clear reason or is it just bad writing?
- Do place names, character descriptions, settings stay the same? (My main character’s eyes seemed to change from hazel, to green to chocolate brown depending on the time of day…)
- Does every chapter have a point? Or is it just filler?
- Are all the threads and loose ends tied up by the end of the book? If not, why not?
- Do you stick to your theme?
- Did you enjoy reading it??
I now have a whole (very long) laundry list of things I want to change and an idea of what bits work and what needs more love (case in point: I obviously spent loads of time rewriting the entire first half of my manuscript only to leave the latter bits untouched, so the story sort of reads like it was written by two different people).
But at least now I have an excuse to go absolutely mad with the red pen. Next step: buy a whole lot of red pens.