You know when you’re watching a movie about people making a movie/TV show and they say, “We’ll fix it in post?”
Well, so will you.
Your first draft doesn’t need to be perfect. It shouldn’t be perfect. You’re going to write and rewrite until it publishes, and then you’re going to wish you could write and rewrite some more, because there’s always something you could’ve done differently.
There are different camps when it comes to writing and editing. I’m firmly in the camp that you should write the entire project before you start editing. Some say you should edit as you go, but to me, that can cause problems.
You write chapter one. You go back and edit chapter one. Okay, that’s great. Now move on to chapter two. But, wait, you want to change more of chapter one, so you go back to that. Editing as you go can cause this road block where you want to perfect what you’ve already written before you move on. If this road block doesn’t get in your way, then okay, keep editing the way you have been.
But, since that’s not the case for most people, write first, edit later. Here’s how I suggest you work through your project. Now, remember, this won’t work for everyone, but it’s a starting point if you’re struggling!
- Write the entire first draft from start to finish (if you have a prologue/epilogue, these are the only exceptions for me. Write these after you’ve edited, since so much can change! I may write a whole blog post on just this.)
- Set the project aside. You’ve just written a ton of words (probably like 40,000 to 100,000, ideally!) and your brain needs a break from it. I recommend at least a week, longer if you can. Give your mind a chance to relax and recover after writing an entire book! You deserve it!
- Read your entire first draft. Don’t make any changes. Take notes as you’re reading on things you might want to consider, maybe edit a couple grammar/spelling mistakes if you find them, but this should be a plain read-through. The idea here is to get a feel for your book as a whole before you start breaking it down again during the editing process. It can also help you catch continuity errors if you read from start to finish without stopping.
- Take another break. This one can be shorter, just a day or two, so you can mull over what you’ve just read and come up with an editing plan.
- Read again, and this time, start editing. Kill your darlings! (You can create a separate document with these darlings so you can use them in the future). Work on tightening your plot and strengthening your characters. You don’t have to focus as much on grammar/spelling/punctuation at this point. This is more of a developmental edit for you.
- You guessed it, take another break! By this point, you’ve read your own work at least twice, and you need a palate cleanser before you dive back into it. Read other books in your genre at this point. You can also start working on your query letter here if you’re planning on submitting to agents or editors.
- Read again, but do it out loud this time. This will help you with the flow of the book as well as with any issues you might have with dialogue.
- Read through one more time for a copy edit. Focus on sentence structure, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I don’t necessarily think a break is necessary between these last two edits, but if you need one, take one!
- Start submitting (or publish!) your book!
Of course, each of these read throughs might end up being multiple read throughs, especially when you get to step five. Which is why it’s important to take breaks. You want to love your story by the time you’re finished, and if you overwhelm yourself with it too soon, you might start to hate it.
Again, this is just my recommendation, as I write on my own and continue to work with editing clients (for more information, visit the editorial services tab!). The most important thing is to remember that your first draft is just that: a draft. No need to perfect it right away. You’ll fix it in post.