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Now, on with the blog post!
In a post last month I talked about the importance of finishing what you write. That was primarily about writing and finishing drafts. And finishing a draft is great. It’s a major achievement. But there’s more.
A first draft is only one stage in the whole job of writing a book. The most important stage, because if you don’t have a draft you’ve got nothing. But if you’re going to do anything more than bask in the warm glow of writing it, then there is more work to come. And that still includes you people who edit as you go, because it’s still going to need a couple more passes at it, I promise you.
Not everyone is writing for publication—not even online on a fiction sharing or fanfic site. If that’s the case then maybe the draft is all they need. But if you’re hoping to interest other people in reading your story, you’re going to have to make sure it’s as presentable as possible. So you’re going to need to learn to edit it.
I edited all of my fanfics and original fics that I wrote even before I started submitting for publication. Because I knew I needed to learn how to edit. A couple of those drafts I’d have rather put away in a drawer and forgotten about. But even those I tackled and did what I could to improve them. It was worth it. It stood me in great stead later when I came to edit drafts for publication. And I think even more so with one of Revise and Resubmit rejections. A tough edit of a draft I hadn’t quite pulled off taught me to be utterly ruthless. In one of those cases I cut 30,000 words of a 50,000 words story and rewrote almost everything from the 20k mark forward. That’s not mere polishing, or pruning, that’s like amputating a limb! But it taught me I could do it.
Some people do get stuck at this point. They don’t know how to edit. Drafting is, at least at it’s most basic, pretty simple. Sit down and write and keep writing until you get to the end. You can take a crack at doing that without knowing anything at all about writing a novel. But editing? How do you actually edit 90,000 words into something people will want to read? How do you even know what its problems are that you’ll need to fix? Some people will just sit down at page 1 and work their way to the end doing little more than line edits. Others will look up information about editing and find a bunch of different ways of tackling the job and have no idea how to choose which one to use and feel stymied. How can they tell which technique will work for them and their book?
There is nothing wrong with just choosing one and trying it out. It’s as simple as that, I promise. No method is wrong or right. If it works for you, great. If not, abandon that approach and find another. Until you try editing you won’t know which method suits you, so feel free to try different ones. In the end you’ll come up with a personalised method maybe using bits from several ones. That’s great. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. (Here’s how I do it. Take anything useful to you from that.)
Editing is a skill, like any other. It doesn’t just come naturally. You have to learn it. And like writing, you learn by doing. Learning it is as important to your development as a writer as learning to write a draft is. It’s part of your skillset. Don’t think “well I’m not going to submit this, why go the trouble of editing?” You need practice at ever part of the job.
Finishing a draft is very satisfying. Until you read it and see all its rough edges and flaws. If this leaves you feeling unsatisfied and wanting to get in and make it better, then good. That will motivate you through the editing. The motivation to edit should not be just to make it ready for submission or publication. If it is, the editing feels like a chore. It should be because you can see that the story can be better and you want it to be as good as possible. It’s a matter of pride. If that’s you then you know you’re not finished when you’ve typed The End on the draft.