Finally, after months- possibly years- of work, you excitedly type the last sentence of your story, marking the culmination of your superb effort. You’re done. You can hardly believe it!
For a moment, you sit there, exhilarated. Then it really hits. You’ve finished. For me, I stood up, clapped as loud as I could for about 30 seconds (in the middle of my dorm room), then sat back down, grinning at the screen.
But after a few minutes or days or weeks, eventually, the magic of finishing that first draft starts to fade, and you have to ask yourself the inevitable, terrifying question:
- Take a break- The first step in moving forward is to stay where you are. Counterintuitive, yes, but also no. If you jump right back in a few days, you’ll meet two problems.
- First of all, you’ll probably burn out. Editing is never just a quick run through, not a good edit, anyhow. If you want to make it through editing, you need this break. Getting a book published is a double marathon, not a 5k. You’ve already been running for a while now, but you’ve got a long way to go. Get some water, catch your breath, and get ready to go again. For me, this meant focusing on school and work. For you, it might mean simply switching to a different project or focusing on relationships.
- Second, your work needs time to sit. If you finish the project and jump back in, you’re not going see it much differently than when you wrote it. The parts that felt weak when you were writing will feel weak as you edit. You’ll miss the same continuity errors you made while writing. However, if you let your work sit, it will feel a LOT fresher second time around. You’ll see different strengths and different weaknesses than before. You’ll get a better feeling of what it’s like to read the book for the first time. Trust me, you need to let it sit.
So how long is a good amount of time to wait? It’s different for everyone. But I would say, let it sit until you can’t avoid it anymore. For me, this was nearly three months. It might be shorter for you, but that’s what took before I came to the point where I needed to start again.
- Beta Readers– Beta readers are vital. I would say 70% of the things I edited in my third draft was because of suggestions made by beta readers. Having a handful of fresh eyes will do wonders for your work. They’ll easily spot which characters feel underdeveloped, where the pacing is off, what scenes feel unnatural, what your strengths as a writer are, where the best bits of dialogue are, etc. You need beta readers. A question I get a lot on beta readers is, “Where do I find them?” This really could be a post itself, but here’s a quick list of where you can find people to read your book.
- Family– I can always count on my parents to read the book. Usually, I can snag a sibling or two as well. Depending on your family, you might get feedback that’s a little too honest (my dad), or you might get some adoring fans (my mom). Either one is great for your development.
- Friends– If you’re a writer, chances are, you have writing friends, friends that like to read, or just friends that care enough about you to read something you’ve created. I have a handful of each. Each one helps me get a new perspective, and I can bug them in person if they don’t read fast enough.
- Online Communities– You have to be careful with this one. You don’t want to give your manuscript out to just anyone. But if you’ve built trust with someone and they are willing to maybe do a manuscript swap, that’s your next best bet.
- Editing- Oh man. I could talk for hours about editing. I won’t. But I could. Truthfully, editing is so hard for me. I edited my second draft in a few weeks, but it was just a rough run through before I sent it to betas. The real pain came in my third draft. It took a few months, and I rewrote 35% of the book entirely, edited it all vigorously, rewrote every single line of dialogue, and came up with an entirely new ending. It sucked, but the result was sooooo worth it. Here’s what you need to do.
- Use the beta feedback– Trust their instincts. Not everything they think needs changed should be edited, but if several of them agree on something, look into it further.
- Read every line out loud- This will help you catch the iffy sounding bits. Trust me, this is helpful.
- Read the dialogue on its own– Go through and read all your conversations without the, “Daniel said, setting down his coffee mug” or the “Keesha squatted next to him and looked into the distance”. Without this in the way, I promise, you’ll hear parts and be like, “The heck? Why would they say that? Someone else just said it.” It will also help you know if your characters sound distinct or not (mine did not, which is why I rewrote 100% of the dialogue).
- Fix the plot– Obvious, but this is the central part of the editing process. Nothing else matters if the story doesn’t make sense. Beta feedback is your main go-to for this.
- Don’t give up- Trust me, you’ll be tempted, but don’t do it. The end result is honestly a better feeling than when you finish that first draft. Seeing your polished beauty will make you so proud.
- Repeat steps 1-3 as needed– Depending on if you’re a perfectionist, you might need to repeat steps 1-3 a few times until you feel like your book is ready to be published. I just sent mine out to the third set of beta readers. I’m hoping it’s the last.
- Query– This is actually ahead of me, so I have no idea how to do it yet. I’ll probably do a post on it once I’ve figure it out. For now, just know this is a long process that involves (surprise surprise) a whole ton of work and perseverance. If you want to know more on specifics, I would use the Googles.
Keep on writing, keep on editing, and keep on staying alive until you get your book published. That is all.
Writing is hard, editing is harder still. But you can do this!
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