Monday, January 17, 2011

The First Edit

It's been about 6 weeks since I finished my first draft of Sidekick, my little pet project. Which means, of course, it's about time to tackle the first edit. Yes, FIRST. Maybe you are the kind of writer who can resolve every issue with a manuscript all at once, but I can't. I know going in that there will still be things to fix when I'm done. I will still need to polish.

That doesn't stop me from freaking out.

It goes a little like this: "I am so not happy with that sequence of events. It needs to be drawn out, and I need to really make it hurt more. And that one character—her backstory is WAY too complicated. I need to simplify while keeping her resulting personality relatively the same. And the dynamic between those characters needs more spark. Oh, and I need way more backstory for him! There are so many details I need to add to make these people real. The setting kind of sucks, too. I really need to ground this novel somewhere, because setting can really bring a novel to life. And speaking of "really," I probably have too many in the manuscript. The prose is so rough. Ack."

The first edit is a lot like the first draft. There is so much to do! It can be just as overwhelming to have a finished book that needs to be ripped apart and put back together again.

So what do you do? There's lots of ways to tackle that first edit. But I personally set just a few focuses for myself. If I look at everything at once, it's hard to tell what's most important. So I take a step back, and I think about 1) What is good already, 2) What is kind of crappy, 3) What is missing.

Then I try to figure out how I can make the good stuff great, the crappy stuff better, and what I should add to make the novel more like I envisioned.

I'll use Sidekick as an example.

1) Good Stuff
Plot is in decent shape. Needs filling out near the end, to draw out tension a little more

Characters pop. At least most of them, focus on adding more dimension to Colin and Trina, more history between characters could give more weight to current story

2) Crappy Stuff
That one scene near the end. That fight needs to be bigger, MC needs to get more defensive and upset.

Summarizing. Add Real Scenes for the important stuff that's summarized, and cut the boring summaries.

Messy prose.

3) Missing Stuff
Setting is pathetic, needs more detail on every level. And pick a real place, lazy.

Backstory. Characters have known each other a long time. Needs to feel that way.

Details. Details. Details.

Those points may look small, but you all know they can mean pretty intense, sweeping edits. Once you have your own list, it's time to pick the ones you really want to focus on. Right now, I am working on all the Good Stuff and Crappy Stuff, save the prose. The Missing Stuff has taken a bit of a back seat. Sure, I add Missing Stuff at my whims, but I'm not looking for it.

You just can't do it all at once. That's okay! Sure, it's work. And it takes a long time. But splitting up the tasks helps me stay focused and prevents me from totally panicking. Step by step, the work gets done.

Good luck to all those working on their First Edit! I'm right there with you, and I have cookies.


  1. Even reading a post about the first edit brings that panicky feeling up in my stomach. Definitely my least favorite stage.

  2. I like that three categories idea. Simplification. I'm going to try that out.

  3. I like how you've broken it down into categories. Makes it seem less daunting.

  4. I usually fix one or two major problems with each edit, so it's good to hear that I'm not the only one! I tend to work by order of proirity and patch the biggest holes first. Battling too many monsters at once is overwhelming and makes me want to redirect my focus to cheesecake.

  5. my 1st draft tends to be fixing my pathetic setting... I rush to get the story down, then I come back and add the details.

    Love the categories idea, though.

  6. Sounds like your revision methods are a lot like mine!! I'm exactly where you are, working on the first of what will likely be many edits. The way this is shaping up, I'll probably end up rewriting a good deal of my novel--even though the plot will stay essentially the same.

    Good luck with your editing :)

  7. I don't fear the first edit as much as finishing the first draft, but it can still be daunting. I have rolled your 3 categories into one..."Fix the Crapola!" So far, it works for me ;) Best of luck to you~

  8. I try to edit a bit as I go - usually a quick read through the previous day's stuff on the next writing session. But it never works as well as I hope. :-( I still have to do the big edits at the end to tie up the ends and shine the rusty parts.

    Edits R vewwy vewwy skawwy! (and they apparently make me talk like Elmer Fudd)

  9. As I'm writing my first draft, I'm usually simultaneously making a list of things that will need fixing in the second draft. ;)

    I like revising and editing. That is when you can feel the story really beginning to come to life.

  10. Holy moly, your freak out sounded exactly like mine. I'm just doing my first edit of my first book and .... lots of freak out. I like how you break things down :) good luck!

  11. Good advice! I like it when you can break (crazy-insane-omgosh-I-can't-do-this!) things down into small steps. Those I can deal with. :) *starring this post*

  12. I love the three category idea--- awesome.

  13. This is exactly what I needed to see right now. I had tons of help editing my first draft but now my creative writing teacher isn't there to be my shoulder angel anymore. Thanks!

  14. I'm also working on a first revision of my novel. I expect it to take multiple revision attempts because if I focused on all the weaknesses at once, I'd be too overwhelmed to go on. My first focus is on filling in plot holes and inconsistencies (like the fact that she changed from a freshman to a senior halfway through the novel because she ended up being older than I originally though), but I like your categories. They're helpful for making revision goals. Good luck with your revisions!

  15. Big Breath, I can do it.

    Timely post as I too am facing the first go through. Though I don't call it an edit. It's a re-write. I have lots of scenes to change, move, cut, write- big breath again. I actually made a list kind of like yours but it is still overwhelming to sit down and try to fix it all. I haven't had this big of a re-write before and I was kind of freaking out today. I'm glad I'm not the only one.

    Thanks for the encouragement and reassurance.

  16. I'm not there yet with my work in progress. I'm in the midst of starting up a war.

    In the book.

    @Jayme Stryker: Your surname matches up to my MC surname.

  17. I'll be right there with you in a couple of weeks! Good luck!

  18. You know, it kind of reminds me of moving.

    You have all this STUFF on the outside that needs to go inside. You carry boxes until your arms are noodles.

    Then when that's done, you have all these BOXES that need to be unpacked. You unpack until your arms are noodles.

    Then when you've unpacked everything, you have to sort through the crap. How'd THIS get in there? How'd THAT get in there? You organize until your arms are noodles.

    Then you have to find out how everything fits together. Yes, you like that [giant green sofa], but does if it can't fit through the door, it can't fit through the door. Maybe it goes here. Maybe it goes there. Maybe it goes in a different room. Maybe it goes in storage. Maybe it's time you threw it away altogether. You rearrange until your arms are noodles.

    Then, once you've got that all figured out, it's on to the easy stuff, if you consider four weeks of choosing paint and nine weeks of choosing curtains "easy." You decorate until your arms are noodles.

    Eventually, though, you have something that's functional and warm and cozy and, well, HOME. At least, until you decide to move and have to do it all over again.

    But still, the same rules apply to books that apply to moving - it's always more fun with a friend, and there is nothing--and I mean NOTHING--that can't be improved by a can of diet soda and a slice of pepperoni pizza.

    Happy editing.

  19. I'm right there with ya, not on first edits, but not much further along either haha. Good luck! :)

  20. Oh wow - you actually have a "Good Stuff" category, and it's first no less! I've never even thought about giving my own manuscript anything but a lashing. It's for its own god. Hey I was raised by Chinese parents.

    Will you post another sample of your editing? I remember the first time you did that - SOOO helpful.

  21. The biggest thing that helps me in first edit (and 2nd, and 3rd :) is to not sweat the small stuff. If I try to fix sentence structure, grammar, spelling (except if I can't even read the word LOL), I miss important thing like broken plots, exposition, places where my story gets side railed from my main themes. It is so overwhelming, but such a high when you're done that ginormous first edit!

  22. I'm making such a huge overhaul of my hot Nanowrimo mess that I don't even know if I'm on the first edit or a new first draft. Regardless, it's overwhelming, so it's great to hear advice and to know that I'm definitely not alone!

  23. Uuuugh, yeah I feel you in this department. Luckily I'm content with the plot and overall action, mostly it's just the prose and....gah, all the summarizing!

    *sends you flowers and extra cookies* There...We'll make a support group.

  24. I'm doing my first edit of my first novel so this is very helpful. I thought having something on the page would make it less scary, but it's just as scary as the initial writing. Hopefully, I can apply these tips and make it easier.

  25. I've found the first edit is useful for telling, what I have to go back and edit. :P

    And then when I think it's almost perfect, I go and get it critiqued, and realise I've missed some seriously OBVIOUS crap.

    Good luck with your first edit!

  26. Writing is like ironing the Rockies into a Chinese whisper...

  27. @ William Kendall - I have to thank my husband for the last name. My maiden name, not quite so cool. We do get a lot of Airplane references thrown our way though...

  28. This is where I am! I agree, first-editing is similar to first-drafting. I'm a couple chapters in and I've already ignored some things I know I'll have to fix later. But it's so important to keep momentum, even now that it's "finished"...

  29. This is great stuff! I wish I could be as organized when editing :)

  30. I'm on my "3rd Draft," but I still feel like I'm in the middle of my First Edit. The 3 categories idea sounds like a great idea, only my manuscript is kind of ripped apart in the middle right now and I can't even tell what I'm missing at this point.
    Thanks for the advice! And the cookies :)