Editing is a ferocious beast, best laid siege to with a careful plan.
Part of the answer depends on how you went about writing in the first place. How much structural planning did you do?
But, that aside, the very first thing to do is put your work aside for a week. Or two. Or more. (You need fresh eyes to edit your own work. If you dive in immediately, you will be too close to it.)
Next, print it out, get yourself a red pen, and read it. End to end. The pen is not to correct typos or other minor issues. It's to make up blocks that feel out of place. Doesn't flow properly. Not enough tension. Filler. (If you know other writers who will read it for you, will give feedback rather than just praise, get the same from them.)
Then and only then, is it time to make changes.
Do multiple passes. Start with the big things. Fix the story arc. Move stuff around if needed. Cut. Add. (There is no value in fixing word choice - tightening prose - at this point; everything is too liable to change, be rearranged, cut.) Check the plot points, any clues left / conflicts established and their resolutions. Do a pass for each major character, to ensure they are consisten, or evolve logically based on how they participate in the story. Check between characters, that their manerisms and speech-styles are individual.
At that point, you should have a story that basically works. Give it a few more weeks to sit before coming back for finer-level editing. (Also, get external feedback to ensure the structure really does work.) Then, you can start concentrating on word choice, on prose flavour. On tightening your writing. Do this more than once.
And, finally, if you really want to polish your work, read it backwards. A sentence/paragraph at a time. This breaks up the brain's autocorrect function, so you will spot homophones and other typos more easily.
Reading backwards -- what a great idea. That's kind of how I work as a painter, sometimes turning the canvas upside down or holding it up to a mirror, to see if proportions are correct, eyes and expression, composition etc. Sometimes the only way to see error is to trick the brain into seeing something as new. Great post, Rick!
Thanks Rick. That’s very helpful. Definitely having a few weeks away from it. Christmas holidays with two children under 5 in a tier 3 area will see to that in any case.
I think the draft is fairly well structured. After blasting out the first 20,000 words on the advice of Stephen King not to plot, I then realised I had absolutely no idea where it was going.
It was at this point that I found Jericho as I found its resources on plot development helpful. So I spent a fair bit of time working on the plot structure before commencing writing again.
The draft is currently at 125,000 words. 65 chapters in 8 parts.
I have multiple PoVs and an ensemble caste. I remember reading something by Harry that this type of story was usually far too ambitious for a first attempt. But hey ho. This was the story calling to me.
But I anticipate this will be one of the major things I need to focus on in the edits. As well as a multitude of other deficiencies which I haven’t even recognised yet.
I imagine the answer is “as long as a piece of string” but any insight on likely timescales from first draft to final, this is as good as I’m going to get it on my own, draft?
Tie a few of those pieces of string together. You'll get a better estimate.
My own timeline is about twice as long for a single round of edits as the original writing took. And there are multiple rounds.
(The amount of reading and studying you do of language and story structure - the stuff you agree with and the stuff you don't - will increase how long the editing takes, but the result will be exponentially better for it.)
One thing I've done with my manuscript, which has seven POVs, is to separate them out into independent files. (I'm in the midst of an edit cycle, having recently finished a full rewrite.) Work on the single-POV versions independently (with a full manuscript check between each round - if you need help/advice managing this split/merge, ask) to ensure that each is a full story unto itself, with all the relevant structural elements in the right order.
In later edits, when you start fine-tuning the prose, it will also help ensure that each POV has its own distinct and consistent voice; you won't be jumping back and forth between voices while working, but concentrating end-to-end on just one.
HI Pamela - First of all WELL DONE - finishing a first draft deserves to be celebrated it took me 3 attempts at a manuscript before I got to the end of one - so big kudos.
Before you print it out - number the pages. Seems obvious I know but I didn't and dropped the thing and it got all mixed up...total nightmare...especially if you're looking at over 400 pages which you will be with 125000 words unless your font is tiny in which case you probably won't be able to read it anyway!
Rick's advice is sound - it's worth bearing in mind though, your first draft is usually pants (well mine are you might be better than me.) I tend not to attempt an edit after a first draft but read through it see what works, what I like and who needs to be nicer or who needs to be nastier and who needs to be removed and banished to a kingdom far far away. You'll also come across a few bits where you kind of switch off - big red light - if you do that then the reader will do that - so that bit needs rewriting.
I tend to fall out of love with a manuscript on the second or third drafts, it becomes a chore rather than a pleasure because the initial magic has disappeared but it does come back later, so it's a case of persevering.
Then once you pass your baby over to some critique person or if you're lucky an editor then they'll shred it and hand it back to you in tatters. At that point you have to kind of start again almost...and you will be very annoyed with the critique/editor/fiend/monster/evil insensitive **** who criticized the last 6 months of your life.... - then once you calm down and read through all their points the lights come on and you say Ahhh...
It's a long road paved with glory and sinkholes - good luck - My kids are 9 & 11 so not quite as demanding now, or they are but in different ways...But you'll get there.
Well done on getting the first draft finished, I think that means you're in the top 10% of people who actually start a book! For me, that is where the hard work starts - the dreaded editing and revising. I write a fairly quick first draft (I have the luxury of time!). I'm currently heavily into editing on book 2, I find I'm enthusiastic for the revisions for a few weeks, then I have to take a break (usually work on something different or go back to reading which I find hard to do when I'm in the middle of my own story).
Of course, I don't know your work process but as part of the editing process, I found it very helpful to create a detailed chapter and ultimately scene by scene plan to work through the novel. It is a long document but really helps when it comes to structural editing, points of view issues, missing/unnecessary scenes, etc. Also on the days when I don't feel like editing the manuscript itself, I can still glance at the plan to keep the story in my head.
In terms of timescales, it's very different for each writer but my editing process is at least three times as long as the writing! Good luck with the next stage.
Hi Alison, thank you for taking the time to comment. I have drafted in Scrivener and have used its cork board tool to summarise each scene/chapter and part as I have drafted, so hoping that this will prove useful. I also have it in by hand in a notebook. I've found it useful to keep on top of the flow and different plots so far so sure this will also help when editing. I'm hoping I can edit quicker than I write but may be fooling myself! I'll find out soonish I suppose!
Scrivener is really easy from this point - from the draft section, there is a tick box for which sections you want to include in your compile (so you can leave out notes etc). Press compile, it will allow you to select font, spacing etc and output (.pdf, word...) and also headers and footers (page numbers, your details if you are sending off). You can then look through to make sure you are happy with it.
It will then create the file for you in the desired format which you can send off.
It will not affect your files, so no problem to make a mistake.
Thanks Hamish. Yes, once I looked at it I found this straightforward and have managed this fairly easily. Dawn White , I'd take a look at the Compile instructions in the tutorial. I imagine it will be quicker this way for you in future. Lynn Love yes, I'm on a Mac too so afraid I cannot give any insight on Scrivener and a PC.
Thanks to everyone that has been kind enough to take the time to share their advice. I really do appreciate it. I have now managed to compile and print my draft (with page numbers Danny Ambrose !) and am ready to start the editing process now that I have left the manuscript to rest for 6 weeks.
I'm hoping I might be able to get it to such a state to be ready for others for feedback on by Easter, but take heed of some of the advice here and realise that this may be over-ambitious and unrealistic. Desperately need something to aim for in lockdown however.
But first steps first. My amazing husband is taking a day's leave tomorrow and taking on my now quotidian joy of homeschooling a 4 year old whilst trying to ensure a 2 year old doesn't come to physical harm during this process. So am going to brave reading my words. Hoping not to cringe too hard throughout...