Hate editing? So do I. That’s why I created a step-by-step editorial guide for writers (like me) who put off editing.
Tackle these approachable, non-intimidating steps so that you edit your work and (finally) get it published!
The fun part’s over. The weeks (or months) it took to get your story out of your mind and down on paper (or onto a digital file) was a blissfully stressful time that has come to the end.
Now it’s time for Phase 2—it’s time to edit.
**insert exaggerated groan here**
I’m not going to lecture you on why editing your work is important before you shop it around. You know this. I know this. We still hate editing our work.
And you can’t let your first draft sit in your drawer forever. You wrote it because you want to share it with an audience. There’s a critical message sandwiched between those pages that needs to get out.
Then it’s settled. You’ll edit your work.
But where do you begin? Does it ever end? Hopefully by the end of this blog post, you won’t fear the editing process nearly as much as you do at this very moment.
Let’s just assume that you’ve stepped away from your writing.
Every blog post you’ll read about editing your writing recommends this as a first step, so I’m not going to spend time blogging a paragraph on why you need to a break from your work and how fresh eyes on your story is more beneficial than jumping in to make corrections.
You already know this.
You’re reading this blog post because you’ve put off the editing process. Understandable. It’s the most excruciating yet humbling experience you’ll experience as a writer—well, in the presence of just yourself.
We won’t touch the mortifying rejection phase today. Or ever.
You’re ready to swallow your pride and let your red pen stain your first draft. Here are the steps to take on the editing process without feeling overwhelmed or hopeless.
Disclaimer: Plan on reading your story over and over again. Every step in this editing guide requires it. But that’s easy. You know how to read. Already not a scary requirement!
Step One: Edit Just The Small Stuff
To complete this step, gather:
- a red pen
- a whatever-ink-color-suits-your-fancy pen
- a notepad
Time to test the waters. Since you did take a break, read through your story once from start to finish. When you see a glaring grammatical error, use your red pen and fix it.
The other pen is to only be used on your notepad. When your inner editor nitpicks at what’s lacking in your story, from character development and scenery description to plotting and sentence structure, write it on this notepad.
Everything on this notepad is what you’ll tackle later, not today. This is merely the gathering phase. Think of it as your upcoming to-do list.
Step Two: Edit For Narrative Arc
I’m sure you know a basic plot structure:
- Inciting Incident
- Rising Action
- Falling Action
Just because we know it doesn’t mean it was conveyed correctly when writing your first draft.
So this step is to make sure your story has a strong plot arc. If not, this is the time to make a plan to fix it.
I scavenged through a lot of blog posts claiming they were the go-to for narrative arc, but this blog post is the best example I could find that details exactly what should happen at each phase of your story.
If your story arc is sloppier than what you find in the above referenced link, then it’s time to make a game plan. Write down ways you can shape your story to match each point of the narrative arc.
Then tackle each way, one by one.
This may take some time. If this overwhelms you, tackle one way to improve your plot arc each day.
Once you reach the end of this to-do list, read through your story again. If your story still lags in narrative arc, keep brainstorming ways and writing in solutions into your story until it matches up.
In this phase, your sentences don’t have to be epic. You’re simply trying to get the basic structure in place. Leave the beautifying for the next step.
Step Three: Edit Chapter by Chapter
Now that your story has a strong narrative arc in place, it’s time to pretty it up a bit. Or a lot, depending how big of a wrecking ball you used during the last step.
Focus on editing one chapter a week. That’s plenty of time to tighten up sentences, deepen descriptions and sharpen dialogue.
Remember that to-do list you made during Step One? Now is the time to pull it out and see if anything listed applies to the chapter you’re editing. If so, make sure you address it so that you can check it off your list.
Then next week, move on to the next chapter. Easy, right? It’s like you’re back in your glory days of writing your story.
Step Four: Complete the First Final Read-Through
Now all you have to do is read your story from start to finish! If you see something worth editing, fix it. If not, pat yourself on the back.
You may actually want to read your story once or twice more to make sure everything is as you want it.
Whew! That’s it, right? Not quite.
Step Five: Share Your Story
Before you submit your work, it never hurts to have some eyes that aren’t yours read your story. They most likely will see something that you don’t.
Ask them for their feedback. Write down what they say. Then don’t look at that list until tomorrow.
Review that list the next day. Does their feedback have merit? If so, create an approachable to-do list on how to fix your story. Write down exact chapters where the changes need to be applied for each actionable task so that you’re not lost or stressed when it comes to rewriting these sections.
Then, tackle each actionable task one by one.
Sounds simpler than it is. Commit to tackling just one per writing session. If one task is too big, then break it down into smaller, more attainable goals so that you feel a sense of accomplishment by the end of your editing session.
Step Six: The Final-Final Read-Through
I swear it’s the final time you need to read your story from start to finish. By now, you’re (hopefully) happy with the state of your story and you’re just checking for minor errors.
Step Seven: Put That Story Down
The editing process is over! At least for now.
What happens next is up to you. Self-publish your writing. Find a literary agent. Submit your writing to a publishing house or literary magazine for publication.
The decision is yours. This is where I leave you.