Man, I love coffee. But I didn’t always. “Too bitter!” I said. But I started drinking it because of what it could do for me (keep me alert during late night play rehearsals my first year of college). And then I began craving it.
Editing, like coffee, is an acquired taste. Few budding writers love it. Instead, many fantasize that, like Athena springing full-grown from the head of Zeus, flawless masterpieces will spring from their fingers. But Athena is a myth. And so are perfect first drafts.
Once I came to appreciate what editing could do for me, I ended up loving it. Almost as much as I love coffee.
In clay modelling, you start with a lump, from which you shape a rough version of the image in your head: wide-set eyes, hollow cheeks, hawk-like nose. Then you begin altering what you’ve created (moving the eyes further apart), removing what doesn’t belong (hollowing out those cheeks), and adding what does (building up the bridge of the nose).
Editing is the same:
- First Draft – How rough is a first draft? That varies from writer to writer. Many barrel through, quickly shaping the lump (NaNoWriMo, anyone?). There’s a reason some call it a “vomit draft.” I prefer to edit yesterday’s work before continuing, even though I may later delete the passage. Why? Because it gets me back into the rhythm, takes me “there” again. Either way works. What matters is that you keep going!
- Second Draft – There’s little point in reading straight through the first draft of a full-length work. Typos, awkward phrases and clunky metaphors cry out for mercy, like the half-human clone in Alien 3, “Kill me!” So go ahead, kill them, clone them—move eyes, hollow out cheeks, enlarge noses—be ruthless!
- Third Draft – Now you can start focusing on structure and flow. Are there missing sections (needed backstory, cutaways to what’s happening elsewhere)? Are there unnecessary or overwritten passages that slow the rising action? If you outlined your work beforehand (the best way to develop the structure), review it—have you veered away from it? Or does the Outline itself need reworking—which will then serve as a guide for this revision.
At this point, your objectivity will go MIA. That’s when it’s time to call in the special ops team, the Alpha Readers, the first people you allow to see your baby (clay, alien, whatever). Find readers whose opinions you value—writer’s group members, bloggers you admire, strangers in bars.*
And then you wait.
When you finally get their comments, you will:
- Seethe at their ridiculously wrong-headed suggestions!
- Slowly begin to realize some of them may be right
That’s when, armed with the comments you’ve discovered actually make pretty good sense, you’ll begin your next draft.
Man, I love the smell of editing in the morning.
*Never submit this draft or–God forbid–an even earlier one, to a publisher!