For authors, this is one of the most encouraging quotes around, along with all the ones that remind us our first draft is supposed to be imperfect. Rough. Bird-cage worthy. As professional authors know, you can’t edit a blank page.
Then comes the “later” part, where we get to start building castles. But as we build, we have to utilize some of our more aggressive writer tools: axes, guns, garrotes—whatever your weapon of choice to cut the dross, kill useless scenes, choke out pointless characters.
Or, as a euphemism for those of a more sensitive nature, we make frequent, judicious use of the delete key.
Newer writers believe that editing involves nothing more than smoothing sentence structure, switching things around to make better sense, maybe adding a thing or two. But there is so much more to it. Every aspect of story crafting needs to be scrutinized during the revision process: structure, plot, characterization, plot and character arcs, dialogue, text and sub-text, theme, setting and description.
One of the best books I’ve found to help guide the newbie writer through the editing and revision process is James Scott Bell’s Revision and Self-Editing for Publication. I’ve found some self-editing checklists online, but the ones I found would be more effective after the revision stage. They all tend to be about copy or line editing—feeding into the newbie’s ideas that this is all that’s involved in turning a first draft into a publishable book. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ve seen me, in my capacity as a professional freelance editor, preach about the proper order of edits: content edit first, which leads to revisions, then copy (line) edits, then proofreading.
And for content edits, which include every aspect of the craft of writing, Bell’s book is one of the best resources.
As in Maass’s and Weiland’s books, Revision & Self-Editing for Publication has a series of exercises and questions to help you focus on ways to make your manuscript better. I’ve read the first edition cover to cover, but I still pull it from the shelf when I have a problem child in my manuscript. For instance, if I’m having dialogue problems, I go to that chapter and read “12 Tools for Great Dialogue.” Sparks my imagination every time.
There are a lot of good books out there about self-editing. In the early stages of editing—content edits or revision—look for one that hits on the craft of writing. Something that will not only identify problems, but provide ideas of how to fix them. Then dive in. A good attitude helps.