I may have confused a few people at the conference this year. About half the sessions I went to were editing sessions and not “writer” sessions. Actually, I didn’t hit any “writer” sessions this year except the keynotes.
Since I’m a writer, why would I skip the writing sessions? Because there’s more to writing than cranking out a draft. There’s more than world-building. The key to successful writing is the stuff you do with your ideas. Once you have a draft, once you build your world, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
First drafts aren’t perfect (they might not even be complete)
Successful first drafts are full of energy. They’re full of the joy of creation. Usually, they’re full of energy because they take a lot of work. And they may be full of the joy of creation because we’re glad we got the thing done…
Because a first draft is a lot of work, we rarely have the time, energy, and attention to do all the things needed for a finished work. In fact, it’s often best to put some of those things to bed and leave them for later. While writing a first draft, editing can be a creativity killer.
There will be things we miss. There will be things we thought we wrote that we didn’t; things we wrote then forgot about; and parts that just don’t work on the page (even if they worked in our heads).
That means after the first draft, we’ve got to go back and work on the things we’ve written. And, we need to do more than just running Grammarly or spell check.
It’s usually a good idea to let the work rest a bit before we comeback and edit. We need to be in a different frame of mind for editing. We have to take off our creator hat and put on our editor hat.
Editor hats are funny things (and sometimes hard for writers to wear). That’s because an editor hat isn’t just a writer hat. A good editor hat is a reader hat. That means we have to fight some of our natural tendencies as writers. We have to stop protecting our babies unfairly.
Yeah, that first draft is our baby. We don’t want to see it struggle. But we and our writing have a lot of work and growing to do before things come of age. That means we have to look at the flaws and the successes.
It means we have to honestly look for and at the stuff that doesn’t work and find a better way. We have to fill in the spots we missed and cut the excess. That’s not easy. We probably like the things we write.
You love them (but maybe you should keep them to yourself…)
In every good first draft, there are bits we’re particularly pleased with. The problem is, they may not belong in the finished piece. If we’ve done research (and we should) there may be interesting facts we found that just don’t need to be there. If we’ve created good backstories, we’ll probably know lots of things about our characters that just bog down the manuscript (but we created them so we want to use them!).
I’ve got good news. We don’t have to send it all off into the void. We don’t have to send that factoid, detail or turn of phrase off into non-existence. But we can’t leave it in the manuscript.
If you use Scrivener, create another folder. If you write in Word, create a secondary file for those little nuggets of goodness. If you’re really old school and use a typewriter or pen, create a scrapbook. Find a place to keep the beloved but unsuitable bits. They may not fit this project, but you can come back for them and do something with them later.
You can keep them, just don’t keep them in the manuscript if they don’t work.
Understand what you can’t do (it’s not a one-person job)
One of the big secrets, the ones we don’t like to talk about (even to ourselves sometimes) is that we can’t see all the problems, especially not in our own work. Some of us may be lucky to find 60% of the problems in our work. And that’s ok. We get the 60% handled, and then we call for backup.
Editors, both in-house and freelance, exist for a reason. There’s a purpose to writing groups and beta-readers. They help us see the stuff we can’t see (or don’t want to see) in our work. We shouldn’t confuse a beta-reader with an editor (it’s two different jobs) and we don’t have to take all their advice. But, as writers, we’re well served to have that second (or third or fourth) set of eyes looking over our stuff.
It’s about the final product. It’s about achieving what we want to do with our writing. If your end goal is to have words in a drawer, a first draft is good enough. But if you want something more, dear reader, then we have to dig in, do edits, and face what we create.
Edit bravely, dear reader. Edit well. And, I’ll see you next post.