I hate watching movies about writers because there is one thing they always do that is totally wrong. What you commonly see is a writer at a typewriter or laptop, and they write the last sentence, type The End, pet the cat, pour a glass of wine, and celebrate that they are all finished with their novel. Wrong! When you’ve finished your first draft, you have only begun the Creative Writing process.
I’ve never added The End at the end of a manuscript until I knew it was edited as far as it could be and was ready for my formatting and publishing. Not only should you have other people, called beta-readers, look over your manuscript, but you should be editing your book, too. In fact, most of the changes should come from you. And regarding these beta-readers, your mommy should not be one of them, unless your mother is a professional writer or editor and can scathe you objectively.
And if anyone criticizes your manuscript, don’t take it personally. I must admit that this was a hard one for me, and sometimes still is. The problem is that our writing is so personal to us, that when someone finds fault in what we write, it’s easy to see that as them finding fault with us as a human being. If I’m editing your novel and I say you use far too many adverbs, I’m not saying you are a bad human being (but if you leave them in, then you are!).
It’s so easy to fall in love with your own words and you don’t want to lose a single one of them. The way around this is to read your stuff dispassionately and objectively. The way I do that is when I finish a first draft, I set it aside for a month, maybe six weeks. I’ll work on something else, maybe outlines for future projects, or articles for my blogs. Do something else, and house cleaning doesn’t count. It needs to be something else that has to do with writing. So when you read it again, you’re seeing it cold, or at least as cold as you the author can.
This is my editing process. You can do whatever you want, but maybe this will give you some ideas. On my first reread, I look for misspelled words and punctuation errors. I’m also on the look out for bigger picture problems, which I’ll mark later and fix after that.
On my next go through, I shape the book. By that, I mean attach imagery and symbolism. I’ll ether have them in mind when I do my first outline or see what comes out in the first draft. I also break up the dialogue with action. Let’s face it, things happen while we talk. On this draft, I’m not actually rewriting anything, just deciding where to insert those things which make the story full.
This edit can take longer than the first draft simply because it is so meticulous. I’ll read a chapter, note what I marked, and let it sit in my head and stew for a while. I’m constantly writing things down in my original notes of my outline. And when I think I have, I fix the chapter. On the next day, I move on to the next chapter.
After this, I let it sit for a few more weeks, possibly a month. This is like letting the dough rise, at least in my mind. On the next rewrite, I focus on characters. I study once more all of my original notes in my character development. I go through the manuscript looking for just one character at a time, starting with the protagonist, then the antagonist. I follow this with all of the other principles and lastly the minor characters.
I look at everything that makes that character as fully developed as possible and as uniquely individualistic as I can get it. Principally this is done my making sure that person has a unique voice in the dialogue. It also goes for all descriptions and actions. I’ll read it three of four more times, sometimes more, because there is always something to fix.