Why the First Edit is the Best and the Worst

Finishing the first draft of your novel is best described as relieving. Your story, albeit in rough form, is finally down on paper and out of your head. It’s finally tangible and real. It’s freeing because you don’t have the looming feeling hovering over you that you need to put it down. You’ve done that part, but now the next phase of working on a novel begins: editing.

You’ve finished your draft and now you sit yourself down to attack your work, after you’ve let it sit for a few weeks, of course. You’re now in the second phase (or third, depending on if you plot before you start writing) of completing your novel. You open up the first document file or print it out and get your correction tool ready. You’ve been imagining this story for so long and now you’re attempting to read it as an outsider, looking at language, plotting, development, and much more. You read through the first line and it hits you: you write like shit.

This is a common occurrence. When I start writing a story, I’m working so fast to get the story down that tiny mistakes are made and I miss them because I’m so focused on writing. When you get around to editing those rough drafts, you see the tiny mistakes in all their awful glory. The amazingly detailed and flawless image you think you painted ends up being a bumpy cluster and it’s like you didn’t even try to stay in the lines. This is why editing exists: to fix the crap you screwed up the first time around and perfect your image. In the words of Neil Gaiman, “Write down everything that happens in the story, and then in your second draft make it look like you knew what you were doing all along.

The great thing about first drafts is no one sees them if you don’t want them to. After you’ve started something else and have set that draft aside for a bit, you can come back to it with fresh eyes and fix all that needs to be fixed. We only see the polished novels of writers on the shelves. If the first thing we saw from them was the first draft, many would never have been published. After you’ve edited your project the first time through and at least worked out most of the grammatical wrinkles, then you can consider showing it. Personally, when I post on Wattpad, I post the first draft because it’s more of a marketing ploy to drum up interest in the story but it also shows the vast difference between the finalized publishing-ready version versus the original draft.

When we look at our work for the first time after completing the draft, we mistakenly compare our work to that of the novelists we read and their polished works. Stephen King might be able to pump out novels quickly but they still require editing. I remember reading that Veronica Roth’s first book, Divergent, was initially shorter by about 50,000 words until her editor told her to add more scenes to the story before it was complete.

Stephen King I’m sure has less editing to do in his novels now simply out of experience. When you write as frequently as he does (ten pages per day), your skills grow quickly. I’m not sure if everything he writes is directly a story or novel, but it goes to show that writing daily is the key to becoming a great writer.

Don’t just compare yourself to King. James Joyce would be happy with writing one full sentence per day. George R.R. Martin has even asked King, “how the fuck do you write so many books?” Martin has stated in the past that he spends months on chapters of his books whereas King will have a draft of a novel in three. Everyone works differently but the one thing they have in common is they write every day.

Yes, editing can suck. I hate it because it can be discouraging but at the end of each round of edits, I know my work is that much better and I learn something from it. I’d like to be able to write as fast as King and maybe one day I’ll have the discipline to do so. I make the time now but since I’ve finished the first draft of Frigid Nights and only today have I started editing, I’ve spend most of my writing time writing blog posts and working on a short story. I’ve also been doing a creative writing class online which has given me some new perspectives on developing plots.

My goal is have the first edit of Frigid Nights done by June/July. I also want to have another novel started by August and if not, I want to have multiple short stories done. I continue to set goals for myself to work on so I don’t get lost in life and forget what my passion is. I’ve been warned too often that dreams can be lost when other things occupy your time. My aunt warned me that if I did a job outside of what I dreamt of doing, I’d have to be very disciplined in keeping at it because before I knew it, I could be fifty and regretting that I hadn’t done what I wanted to do with my life. Because of that, I make sure to keep myself writing in some form whether it be blogging, short stories, or novels. Life is too short to not do what you love.

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