So the time has come: the first edit. AKA the painful process of seeing if your ideas came out right…
Banging your head on your desk…
Obsessing over the details…
Staying up all night just to throw a copy of your book across the room, pick it up and cradle it…
Because when it comes down to it, it’s still your imperfect baby.
It doesn’t have to hurt so much. Use these tips to make the process as painless as possible:
Wait at least 6 weeks
Stephen King famously does this before picking his work back up. This allows much-needed distance and energy so you can come back with a fresh perspective.
During this time, I often read or focus on something else I’ve neglected in my life while I was writing. I find it most beneficial to pick up a book in a similar genre. For example, this time I downloaded some middle-grade books on my kindle and raided my parent’s house for books I used to read when I was younger. It helps me get in the mindset of a younger reader, lets me see what kinds of things are appropriate, what works well, and how popular stories flow.
Print your manuscript
A simple but crazy helpful solution. Depending on your situation and what you have access to, this may not be possible. But, for your first draft, being able to hold and read it through like a print book helps you picture it as a novel, not some work project saved with allll your other files.
This isn’t necessary for every draft because then you’re just killing trees and probably feeling like a failure for needing so many copies. (Let’s be clear, though, the editing process takes more than one gallant stab. The average amount is about three edits—my personal average is about 10—but it really helps to hold that first copy.)
Crack the book open (and take a deep breath)
Be kind to yourself and enjoy the beauty you’ve created. It’s easy to be critical of misspelled words, poor grammar, or dialogue that makes you go, “WTF?” It’s hard, but don’t put yourself down if it’s not as perfect as you remembered. It’s not supposed to be.
Enjoy your story
On the first edit, I like to read through for plot holes, character inconsistencies (beyond the normal flawed but realistic character), and places where I could slow or speed up the action or plot. I focus less on punctuation/grammar and more on the flow of the work, the feelings it elicits, and if it’s doing what I hoped it would.
The first edit is your chance to read the creation you’ve built. No prying eyes, no judgment. Just you and your story. Worry about all the small but important details in the next phase of editing.