For today’s post with Rachel of Chicken-Scratch Plot, we’re looking at what to do once you’re ready to start draft number two. How do you decide which advice to listen to and which to discard? How do you keep moving forward with your edits when there’s just so much to fix? Your process may differ, but here’s how I do it!
Note: a few of these steps deal extensively with beta readers. If you don’t have any, I’d recommend first doing what I’ve heard called a self-crit. After you’ve let the manuscript cool for a while (at least a month, I’d say) go through it and mark it up as though you were providing critique for someone else’s story. Where does it lag? Where are sentences or images awkward? Then put it away to cool again before you start the edits in earnest.
- Go into the draft cold. Take as long as you need to between drafts to make sure that it’s good and cooled. Do not reread your draft yet. I usually have to take at least a month, sometimes up to a year or more, between drafts. Granted, I have the luxury of doing that since I’m not yet under contract to produce, but you can bet I’m damn sure going to take advantage of that while I can!
- Combine all your feedback and notes into one document. Especially if you have beta readers or if you took part in a critique circle. I find this helps me not feel quite so overwhelmed with the sheer volume of input I have to digest. That was always the hardest part of doing hard-copy workshops for me; the amount of paper that I had to flip through. Digital is definitely my preferred medium as far as editing work. It also helps me keep everything in one place so that I’m not flipping back and forth between multiple documents.
- Read all of your notes and comments in one fell swoop. Not your manuscript. Still not time for that yet, but it’s coming. Just be patient. You should still be abstaining from your WIP so you can look objectively at its faults. This is actually the reason I go through and read all of the beta notes at once–so that I don’t have time to dwell on it yet or to reacquaint myself too much with the draft as it stands. It forces my brain to look at the manuscript as a thing to be fixed and gets the ideas churning for how I want to tackle it. (Caveat: This may not work for you; if you have a lot of betas, for example, you may want to do it in smaller chunks.)
- Go back through the comments again and look for patterns. On your second pass through your comments, go slower. Watch for places where your readers agree. Where do they have the strongest reactions? Are there lines or images that you really love that they don’t? Where a wide portion of readers all come to the same conclusion, pay extra-close attention. It can give you a good idea of overarching changes you might want to make.
- Look for places where the feedback differs. Just as important as where your readers agree is where they don’t. Keep in mind that betas are people. They have different life experiences, levels of expertise, tastes, opinions. When you get conflicting views, take a step back and ask which, objectively, makes the story better. Not would be more fun. Not which would be less work. Which gets your manuscript closer to your vision of how it should be.
- Make a plan of attack. This is entirely dependent on your level of comfort. I make myself a list of things that I want to address as I go through the next draft, both big changes and small, and then start from the beginning of the story. I address each comment, positive or negative, no matter how major or minor, whether I’m following the advice or discarding it. Often as I’m going, ideas shake loose for things that the betas miss, or I can build upon what they started to create something new.
- Break the plan into manageable bits. It’s entirely up to you how you do this. Some people take just the top ten or fifteen things from their list that they want to fix and address just those things in the next draft. Some break it down by chapter. Some by subplot.
Depending on the story and how much work it needs, I tackle this step one of two ways. If the bones of the manuscript are already pretty strong, I go scene by scene from the very beginning, not moving on to the next until the one I’m on is as close to ideal as I’m currently capable. I won’t lie; I very rarely am comfortable enough with a draft to tackle it this way. The second way that I do it is I break my list of things to fix into three categories: the huge; the moderate; and the minor, and I do one pass through the story for each.
Huge changes are things that are story-spanning and will take the most time. Say you have to change a major character’s core personality or remove an entire subplot (Both of these, from experience, really suck). Moderate changes are a little smaller and can usually be tackled on a scene-by-scene basis. Things like smoothing out plot-holes or places the tension lapses go here. Minor changes are everything else. Making sure your protagonist doesn’t have green eyes in chapter one and brown in chapter nine fall into this category, as well as fixing issues of phrasing.
That’s about the basics of how I approach editing! Next time, I’ll look at the huge fixes and how I tackle them!