How NOT to Edit

First and foremost, I had the pleasure of guest blogging about Harry Potter on the awesome Lyn Midnight’s blog yesterday. Considering it was my FIRST GUEST POST EVER, the feedback was truly humbling. I also learned that guest posting is fun and I would TOTALLY do it again. YAY GUEST POSTING!

SO. Now that I got that out. On to today’s blog post!

I made a mistake when approaching my very first read-through with my very first manuscript. I made this same mistake more than a couple of times with later manuscripts, too.

I edited.

Now, now, I know that doesn’t seem so bad, but hear me out.  I wasn’t just editing during my first read-through I was *shudder* line-editing. You know. Like you do to the final, polishing drafts.

It’s not that I didn’t know you were supposed to tackle the big things first—I knew that. But I had a pen in my hand and a stack of paper on my lap and the temptation was just too much. I saw something I didn’t like. I marked it up with my pen. I thought I did a good thing.

What I didn’t realize was that I might as well have carved out the final details to a rock. I forgot about the big things—the characters that needed tweaking, the scenes that needed cutting, the situations that sounded a million times better in my head that needed COMPLETE re-writing. Instead I was fixing awkward sentences and descriptions I didn’t like.

Then—even worse—I was moving on like it was ready for betas.

GOOD NEWS is I now see the error of my ways and vow to NEVER do that again. *phew!* I also decided to write a blog post about it to warn you awesome people about this trap. The first read-through is not a place for line edits.

Let me say that again: the first read-through is NOT a place for line edits. DON’T DO IT.

I’ve developed a method for myself to make sure I don’t fall into it again. It’s simple, really, and it acts as a laser crossbow to that tricksy little trap. TAKE THAT! HEE-YAH!

Eh-hem. For the first read-through I now keep a notebook and a pencil beside me. When I see something that needs fixing (and I DON’T mean an awkward sentence, that’s for later edits so RESIST, MY CHILDREN, RESIST!) I write it down in my notebook. I make a running list. See how long I can make it. The longer the better, really, because it means I’m being nitpicky which is what I want when I’m picking apart my WIP.

Because in the end, each fixed bullet point will make the new draft THAT much better.

SO! When you’re reading that shiny new WIP for the first time, remember to look out for the BIG problems. The characters that need fleshing out and the evil plot that upon second glance is actually a little bit ridiculous. Yeah, those bad boys. They need a butt-kicking first.

Then you can worry about making that manuscript sparkle.

Have you ever fallen into the line-editing trap? What tips do you have for the first read-through? 


Suzy, The Grey Brunette said...

I think this is something I'm guilty of! I'll be editing my second book soon so I'll be remembering what you wrote! Great advice.
Suzy Turner

Joseph said...

I always fall to this trap, but my first read through is on the computer and that's super hard and tempting not to try and change things or create a colour coded highlighting system -- lists and colours, what could be better -- what could be worse more like.

SO! I always upload the documents to my Microsoft Reader which is an e-reader on the computer :)

Krista said...

*blush* Guilty! I like this suggestion! Although I do the big stuff at the same time I am easily distracted. Will be doing this with my next project.

One problem I have with my first read through is that I often want to change the plot complete. But that would make it a different story. So I try to trust in all the little choices I made along the way. I do take notes -you never know when those ideas might come in handy.

Jennie Bennett said...

Totally guilty! But I did go through and think about what the arc of the story should be and I plotted out the direction I wanted the book to go in, but I guess you're right things really shouldn't be set in stone until all the characters are right. But I also agree with Krista about trusting your instincts.
Also, maybe we should blog swap sometime :)

Gabe (Ava Jae) said...

So true everyone!

A huge part of it is knowing the difference between trusting yourself and being stubborn...maybe I'll write about that. Hmm. Anyway, I definitely agree about trusting your instincts, though.

I'm glad (and a little relieved) to see I'm not the only one guilty of this. The temptations is just so...GAH.

Also, I would love to blog swap with you, Jen. :)

Megan said...

I agree! I'm editing my 1st novel, and it's taken me two years to get to the final "nitty gritty" edits. Working as an editor has helped me to see that you need to get the big kinks worked out before you can polish anything.

S.P. Sipal said...

LOL, love your advice. I tend to edit as I write, just not at the same time. Meaning, I'll write several pages, scenes, chapters, whatever, until I hit a break. Then I'll edit before I begin the second. But I just do a perfunctory edit, one that helps me read what I wrote without vomiting. :-) For real polishing, that takes numerous revisions at the end.

Unknown said...

From "Revision and Self-Editing" by James Scott Bell: pg. 211

"Don't stop to make changes at this point. You may jot a few things down, notes to yourself and the like, but keep going to get the overall impression of the book."

He uses shorthand notation in the margin:
a symbol to note the story dragging, an incomprehensible sentence (but doesn't stop to edit, just marks it), a place where there is missing writing, and places that need cutting or serious reworking.

It's what I plan to do to give into my "right now" feelings and yet let my story simmer.

I also highly recommend the book. Not widely available, I ordered it online. Nice checklists/solutions for each major aspect of novel: plot, scenes, characterization, exposition, dialogue etc.

Ainsley Shay said...

Yep - you nailed it! I think that's what most of us do - edit our MS to death on the first go around, expecting it to be perfect. But, by the time we get done - we don't even know what direction we're going in and the whole editing process takes way longer than it should. Great post! Thanks!

Alice said...

Oh man. I line edit at every opportunity. Er. Maybe the editing seminar won't be your thing... Well, I hope you'll enjoy participating anyway! :D

Robert French said...

Good point. Line editing early on is such a waste of time. Glad you reminded me of this.

Ava Jae said...

Line editing should be saved for one of those very last drafts...before then, there's little point as you might end up tossing or rewriting an entire scene, only to have to line edit again. 

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