Whipping Your Wip into Shape, Part 1

I finished the first draft of my latest novel a couple weeks ago and I’m in the early stages of editing, so I thought I’d share tips and tricks that have gotten me from draft one to publication. This post will focus on what I like to think of as stretching, or warming up before the big game.

You did it. You typed those amazing words The End. You have a NOVEL. But maaaaaaaybe it’s not as polished as you’d like.

You know what that means? It’s time for…

The Dreaded ”E” Word: Editing

Writing a novel takes a really long time, so it makes sense that it also takes a really long time to edit. Just reading your draft can take a couple days—assuming you’re like me and have obligations that prevent you from reading in one sitting. And it might take several passes.

The First Pass

Let it sit for a bit
I resisted opening my manuscript for over a week, but some people swear by even longer. When you first finish a first draft, you’re too close to it to view it objectively. You’re still emotionally involved in your characters’ world, so how are you expected to tear it apart? The answer is, you’re not.

Use this time to replenish your creative well. Read, binge on Netflix, go for walks outside—anything that clears your mind and gets you ready for the work ahead.

Do the easy stuff first
Fix typos and grammatical errors as you read, and leave comments in the margin for the bigger things you’ll change later. Save those big changes for when you’re fully immersed in editing.

Tip: Make the easy changes first to ease yourself into the process. This will make you feel like you’re making progress & keep you from getting discouraged.

When I’m ready to get started, I save a new copy and get reading. During my break, I’ve usually convinced myself that my story is awful and I’ll need to trash the entire thing, but so far I’ve always been pleasantly surprised. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still have work to do.

Prepare for the big changes
If this seems easy, it’s because it is. At least, it’s the easiest part of editing. Make the simple corrections and mark the places in your manuscript that you know need changing. Half my notes to myself are questions—”should she be getting off this easy?” or “didn’t she say she hates pineapple?”—that I’ll address in the next pass. I also keep a separate document with notes and questions, and I keep it open while I edit so I can constantly refer to it.

The major plot points that need restructuring are waiting for you, but like I said at the beginning, you need to stretch before you do the heavy lifting. Maybe you have a secondary character who either isn’t necessary or needs a more thorough story line. Or the bad guy isn’t bad enough. Or your main character’s goal isn’t strong enough. A proper warm-up will help you make your novel the best it can be.

Is there anything you do in the first pass that I didn’t include?

Read part 2 here!

About Melanie Hooyenga

Writer. Designer. Jock. Reader. Wife. Puppy-Mama.
SCBWI member since 2015.

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