Last week, I showed you how to give critiques to another person, using a real-life example. This time, I want to share a few tips I’ve learned about editing your own manuscript.
I realize — maybe better than anyone — that this new novel you’ve just written is your baby. You’ve spent the past three months? Six? Eighteen? giving birth to it. Nurturing it. But that draft is just the beginning. No one can write a first draft and then expect that first draft to go out into the world and survive. It’s really exactly like a baby: you don’t expect a week-old baby to be able to go get a job, do you? Then why do you think that brand-new manuscript can be published just as it is? It doesn’t matter if you’re querying agents or planning to self-publish on Kindle, you need to edit and revise, probably more than once.
There is no right or wrong way to revise. If you’re a “pantser” (meaning “write by the seat of your pants,” with no plotting ahead of time), then your revision process will probably be different from someone who spent months plotting it all out and then writing. You actually go through the same process as a plotter, only in reverse. By the time your first draft is done, you’ll see the plot holes, where you can put in more twists, where you can ramp up the tension, where you can use a character (or even cut one!) to better effect.
I’m visual, so I like to take the manuscript and Post-It Notes and “plot” that way. Each scene gets a Post-It Note, and they get stuck on my office wall. It helps me see where scenes could be moved, where I have too many that are too similar, where I need to add in something to balance out the different plot threads.
There’s also no consensus on whether you should revise on your computer or on a hard copy. I prefer hard copies, the same way I prefer real books. I like to take a pen and make notes, to cross things out and jot new ideas in their place. Others prefer to work on their laptops so they can make changes right then and there. That’s okay, but make sure you’re saving that as a new file! If you permanently delete something from The Only Copy of You Novel, and you want it later — you’re screwed, my dear. That’s another reason why I prefer hard copies. Even if I do delete something, I always have that hard copy and I can retype it.
And on that note: MAKE BACK-UPS OF YOUR BACK-UPS. If you start a new draft, SAVE IT TO MULTIPLE PLACES. Not just your hard drive. Not just your flash drive. BOTH. A really good way to save your work is to create an email account for yourself with Yahoo or Google, and email your drafts to yourself there (though you have to keep the account active, or it will be deleted — and with it, your work). Even if your computer crashes, you have it Somewhere Else. You may think I’m paranoid, but when you lose your novel and have no hard copies and no back-ups . . . Yeah.
Here’s a neat trick I discovered this year: save your work as an ePub file and load it on your e-reader. It makes a world of difference! (For one thing, it makes you think “Holy freaking cow, this looks like a real book!”.) Typos jump out at you. Paragraphs and sentences take on a new life; you aren’t as tempted to skip over things, because you’re seeing it in a totally new format. You’re forced to confront things that you may have just shrugged at earlier. There are several free ePub converters online; the one that I’ve found works best for me is http://www.2epub.com/ I have a Nook HD+, and this is the only converter I’ve found that properly converts my Word documents into something that works on my Nook.
And let me get this out right now: whether you’re doing a beta read for someone else or revising your own work, read it as close to one sitting as possible. Otherwise, you run into this problem called IDon’tRemember-itis. It’s when you read the first few chapters, set it down and go live your life for a few weeks, then remember you have to get this thing read, so you come back to it, but you don’t remember the first three chapters, so you have to re-read them. Then life comes calling again, and a few weeks later, you remember the novel, and you have to go re-read the first three chapters over again, and it becomes a never-ending cycle. How can you read for plot continuity if you can’t remember what the plot even was? Or know if the MC is acting out of character if you can’t remember what she’s like? You can’t. You’re doing yourself (or the other writer) a huge disservice if you do this. Do. Not. Do. It. Also, don’t read something else while you’re editing. You’ll get confused. Or worse, you’ll get tempted and fall right back into IDon’tRemember-itis.
Next week, I’ll let you have a peek at my own revision process. Hang on. It’s full of multicolored pens, Post-It Notes, scribbles, and harshness. 🙂