Last Thursday afternoon, hiding from the rain in a Cafe Nero by Waterloo Bridge, I ‘finished’ the first draft of The Hunt. Of course, the book is far from done – I need to go back and fill in the holes, for a start, when I’ve finally decided what on earth should happen to Amber and where to put in more clues about the Huntsman and lots more spoilery stuff. The first draft is pretty rough right now.
The funny thing is, almost everyone I’ve spoken to about it has asked, ‘Well, what are you going to do with it now?’, as if I might send it off to an agent tomorrow. I mean, I *could* send it off, but that would be shooting myself in the foot. Instead of being the end of the writing process, in many ways this is now the beginning – with the rough shape of the story in hand, I can get down to the nitty gritty of polishing.
For many writers (including this one!) this is a scary process.
I remember when I had finished my 2009 NaNoWriMo entry and wondering what on Earth to do next. Since then I have finished three more manuscripts and edited two, taking them all the way up to the agent querying stage. I am by no means an editing expert, but here are some tips on where to go once you hit ‘the end’:
- Leave the novel aside for a little while. You’ll be amazed what a difference a set of fresh eyes can make, even if you’ve only had a few days’ rest from it. Not only will you pick out mistakes or rough bits, you’ll also glow with pleasure at the thought that you wrote *that* line/scene.
- When you come back to it, change the font. Again, can create a sense of distance between you and your work.
- If you haven’t already, do your research in terms of what’s already out there. I was in this position with my first book – not a clue about modern YA – but a bit of reading helped me realise my ms needed a lot more ‘voice’. I rewrote the whole book in first person which made it far more suitable for my target audience.
- Join a writing forum or other online group. I use Absolute Write, but the SCBWI boards also have a good reputation and the annual WriteOnCon is another good (if seasonal) resource. Use these to get feedback on snippets or recruit beta readers – which leads me to:
- Get some beta readers. I like to get the novel looking reasonable before I send it off to anyone, just because I’ve beta-read a couple of things that have left me wanting to claw my eyes out so I feel bad inflicting something really rough on people. Spelling, punctuation and plot holes should be patched up as far as possible before sending the novel to some trusted advisers. This is a big and sometimes scary step, but trust me – you want their feedback!
In terms of the actual editing, a lot depends on what you want/need to work on. Holly Lisle has some good advice, as does the brilliant Janice Hardy. I still don’t have a foolproof method, but with The Twain’s last round of edits I played with plot cards to lay out the chapters and see where I needed to extend the story, plus, on a more superficial level, removing filter words and overused phrases is another must for me.
If you’ve edited before, how do you like to do it? Or if you’re sitting on a fresh first draft, where do you think you will start?