Repeat after me: “The draft I just wrote is not my final draft.”

Now take a deep breath and brace yourself, because you won’t like what comes next.

*ahem* Your first draft is bad.

WHOA. What happened to encouragement and love?

It’s still here. This is tough love. For your book to reach its potential, you need to hear the hard truth. And the hard truth is that no first draft, no matter how well outlined and cherished, is good enough to publish. Rough drafts are just that – rough. You make them worth reading by editing them, and the first step in the editing process is editing yourself. To do that, you have to learn to look at your own work with a critical eye.

In the coming weeks, we’ll discuss various things you need to edit and how to do that, but here is the mental framework you’ll need to get yourself through that process:

Step One: Step Back

You may have felt like you were channeling the depths of your soul in your writing.

Your emotional investment in your work is great when writing, but now that it’s time for editing, you need to set aside your attachment to the piece. You can’t hold onto a section of the book that doesn’t work just because you love it (or, conversely, because you spent so much heartache and frustration getting it on to the page). Get yourself into a mindset where you’re willing to cut any section, anywhere, for the good of the story as a whole.

Step Two: Re-read carefully

You do yourself no favors by getting sucked into your story while editing. Force yourself to slow down, to really look at each sentence, paragraph, and chapter. Think about what you want it to do and whether or not it’s succeeding.

Step Three: Be patient

When you find a part that doesn’t work, don’t ball up your manuscript and throw it away in a fit of rage.

You may not know how to fix a particular section right away. Give it time. Sit down and write out possible ways to improve the section. Sleep on it. Talk about it to other people who’ve read the book. Eventually you’ll find a solution.

Step Four: Take notes

You will not be able to fix everything on your first re-read. You will notice big-picture issues that require you to go back through the entire book to add information, cut irrelevance, or revise characterization. Keep a list of these in a separate document so you can refer back to them.

Once you’ve finished your first read-through, I recommend taking two or three of your “fix this” topics at a time and re-reading the book to edit them. This lets you do more than one at a time, but still keeps your focus narrow enough that you can do it well.

Step Five: Encourage Yourself

Editing is hard. You may not be able to see the end of the road, but every step you take down it improves your book and gets you closer to that final draft. Remember that.

Step Six: Be Glad You’re Not Editing on One of These:

Because then you’d have to re-type every page where you wanted to change something, and that is awful. Hooray for computers and word processors!

***

Editing is a long-term process, and may even take longer than it took to write your book. That is okay. Give your book the time and effort it needs to become a masterpiece.

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