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What’s that ya say? You’ve written a novel?

You’ve poured your heart and soul into The Next Big Novel and scribbled it down on paper. Its infancy was spent clamoring around inside your head pushing to get out, and now it’s out for the world to see. And they are going to see it, dang it!

You’ve cried, bled, and lived on nothing but 5 Hour Energy, coffee and White Chocolate Lindt Truffle Balls for at least a year. And you’ve kept your sanity together through it all, even when everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

Your main character has three different names, you’re starting to misspell your made-up words and can’t remember if the red squiggly lines underlining them in Word are telling you the truth or not, and you’ve misplaced—on more than one occasion—well-written chapters you swore would help you win the Pulitzer. You heroine is falling in love with the wrong guy, and you can’t do anything about it, you’re plot’s missing and your ending isn’t going to satisfy anyone.

You’ve cried because the story is perfect. You’ve cried because it’s crap. You’ve cried because you don’t know what to do now that the meaning of life has slipped through your cramped fingers.

Then, something happens. You don’t know what caused it, and you don’t care. Something clicks, and everything falls into place. You realize that Jake was never good enough for Jenny, it only could’ve ever been Greg. And that plot? What were you thinking?!?! It should’ve been this all along. The ending is perfect, everyone’s happy, and now it’s ready for the world.

Or is it?

Ask yourself that question again, but this time, be honest.

Chances are, it needs to be edited heavily. Getting the story down on paper is only one of many steps in writing a book.

Alright, you crack your knuckles, and buckle down to edit. And in order to do that properly (in my mind, anyway), you self-publish a copy of your book on LuLu or the like so you can have your manuscript in the form a book.

A real book.

It doesn’t matter that it cost you $15 to print, $35 to ship (because you wanted it overnight, naturally), or hours trying to format your entire ms into “bookstore ready” formatting. What matters, is that you can smell it, touch it, and turn the pages of your book. Somehow, this means it’s all official, and your hard work has paid off.

You’ve written A BOOK!

Now comes the fun part. And I’m 100% serious. Grab your red pen and tear your baby apart. Limb from limb. I want to see blood, people! BLOOD!

The first level of editing is at a high-level. Think triage. You discover a number of things through the magic of editing at this level. Sub-plots need to be added/taken away to enrich the main vein of your story. Characters may not work, entire scenes may need to be deleted, you discover inconsistencies. The sky’s the limit! Here is where you discover what’s broken and what needs to be fixed.

The second level is on a more detailed level. Work on the subplots, your characters’ arcs, their back stories, etc. Recognizing that your MC would never say what they just said, and fix it. Make your story richer, making sure the smaller, loose strings are woven back into the tapestry of your novel. Do your reader a favor and CUT out the passive voice and adverbs!

The third draft is the line edit nuances.

Don’t limit yourself to just one pass at each level. There’s no rule as to how many times you do this. That’s what being a writer is all about. Taking what you’ve created and making it better. But don’t get too carried away. You can edit until the cows come home, because nothing is ever going to be perfect. Not even your book. But don’t let that stop you from trying.

After you’ve gone through your first set of edits, put your novel aside for a bit, and this is important. Read a book, work on another project. Take some time to let it marinate in your changes. Then, pull it up again, and edit some more (If you’re like I was on my first book, I printed out about 8 different copies from LuLu. One after each round of edits. Oh, the headache).

Having other people you trust and value look at your work helps you to edit it on a higher level. I personally go through 3 – 5 rounds of editing before I consider it “ready” enough to let someone else look at it. One of the downfalls of editing your own ms is that you know the in’s and out’s of the story. All the subplots. All your characters’ back stories. How the story’s going to end.

Having this knowledge makes it hard for to edit honestly and recognize when something isn’t working as well as it’s supposed to. Which is why I am a part of a writer’s group. And an A-MA-ZING online writing community called Scribophile. I’ve learned more from these two resources than I ever could’ve from a bazillion rounds of self-editing or reading books on the topic (but there are good ones out there. Take a look at the resources link on the right of my blog). Getting candid, honest, gut reaction advice is the best.

And it hurts.

Sometimes you think you’re going to bleed to death with what they had to say. It’s hard not to take it personally. But you need tough skin as a writer, and if you can’t learn it at this stage, you’re never going to survive the querying process.

I’ll give you an example from my personal experience.

I posted the first 20 pages of The Setting Sun tp an online community (not Scribophile). The first critique I got, I tried my hardest not to cry. The man was honest. Brutally so. He could have been a little “fluffier” about what he had to say, but the bottom line was, he was right. And I appreciated that so much when I went back to look at my work through his eyes.

He’d said it was like sitting though a traffic jam. And he was right. Who wants to sit through a history and info dump from a first time writer? Not to mention it was poorly done. He told me there was too much description, and while I didn’t whole-heartedly agree with him, I did pare it down a bit.

And that’s what’s great about getting critiques: being open to new things and different opinions. Don’t be so prideful that you miss the lesson to be learned. Keep what you like and toss the rest (in the end remain true to yourself and your story), and apply what you learn to future work.

Once you’ve finished editing, and have gotten your ms in the best shape possible (I’m talking passing-a-military-mud-boot-camp-in-style fit), it’s time to edit it one more time. By yourself. Reading it out loud. Take your time. When your ecstatic with that, then, my dear friend, you may start querying.

Happy Monday!


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