So, the first draft is finished and the story works in a sort of splotchy kinda way. There were a few surprises but, in the end, things generally got to where they ought to be. Creating and writing the first draft was a thing of fandabulousness!
So why does the process of editing have to be so laborious? What is it that makes the editing procedure seem such an onerous and formidable task? Well, let’s face it; editing is basically ironing out the wrinkles. And who likes to iron? Not me, that’s for sure. And by the looks my wife gives me when I ask her to please, please iron my shirt because she’s better at it than I am — I don’t think she likes to iron either!
But, man, when the ironing’s finished and that 95% polyester fabric is suitably de-wrinklified, those floral patterns sure look pretty. And that’s all the editing process is. Making pretty floral patterns from the wrinkled fabric of a first draft.
Painless editing is all about making the process fun and I go about that in several ways. First of all, and easiest, is to simply reward myself when I’ve hit a target with either watching some Netflix or playing some computer game. But to make that a rewarding experience I’ve had to cut back on them both altogether (as well as food—rewarding yourself with food is never a good idea and to those who say there’s nothing wrong in rewarding yourself with a bag of scientifically-impossible-and-addictively-tasting Doritos (or whatever your ideal, weight-inducing snack is) once a week, to that I say balderdash!). I suppose it’s part of the new regime you instigates when you find yourself tumbling downward over-that-yonder-hill: you start to realize it’s time to do things right.
I also like to make comedy of an intelligent nature. I call it the secret one-liner. It’s a joke that not many people will get but those that do will feel a connection with the writing and might even become a fan. In fact, the more obscure and niche the topic of the joke, the better. I always try to put secret one-liners into my writing. It helps the editing process because it instills fun.
Taking breaks from editing is a must. In a normal working day of eight hours, UK law says you’re entitled to a 20 minute break. A decent employer, however, will perhaps give you 3 breaks from work, for example: a 30 minute lunch break and two 15 minute tea breaks. And, although there is no law defining it, health & safety regulations stipulate you should be taking at least a 5 minute break from your monitor every hour. So, if you’re going to be professional about editing and treat it like a proper job (which, I suggest, is the best way for success) then you must ensure regular breaks away from the screen. Give your eyes a rest for 10 minutes every hour.
Music makes for a contented soul (or at least keeps the tinnitus at bay). Ambient music, quiet music, music without words, idyllically gentle in the background. When you can hear the music, it’s not working. When the music melts into your surroundings, that’s when the magic happens. I used to write code once-upon-a-time and every now and again I would reach a level of sub-conscious involvement with the coding—I would disengage with the world around me. A person could sit beside me and talk directly at me and I wouldn’t hear the words simply because 100% of my focus was directed at solving a coding problem. In the sporting world it’s called being in the zone. You can do this with writing and music helps to get you there.
Patience is by far one of the best tools a writer can have. First, to realize that writing, at a professional level, is not a thing that can be done quickly. Sure, you can write at speed but it’s gonna take months, even years to finish writing a book. Knowing this helps to develop the kind of hard-shelled patience a writer wears as an over-coat. You don’t have to be a patient person to become a novelist but when you don that writerly cap you’ll become accustomed to the speed at which a novel is written. I’m still working on patience. I like things to be done quickly—I like to see results—so I break things done; turn one thing into four, which means four, hopefully positive, results instead of one, which works for me. And I can feel my patience growing, my tolerance of dumbfounded, slowness developing. I’m getting there.
It’s all a journey or a process, this editing malarkey and being a noob at it is okay. To make mistakes is just one part of that process. You could say the first draft is just one big mistake that needs to be fixed. Any half-way decent word-processing software will automatically save your stuff and once you know how to work the software you’ll never need to worry about mistakes. Make as many mistakes as you can. There’ll always be copy & paste to come to the rescue.
Learning how to edit is all about finding out what’s best for you, not what someone else tells you to do. Sure, there are a bunch of books and sites that’ll give you all the information you’ll ever need but I say the best way to find a process that works for you is to learn how the professionals do it then go do it whatever the hell way you want to.
“When you break rules, break ‘em good and hard”
― Terry Pratchett