Before You Edit…

After finishing the first draft, it’s normal to want to celebrate. Go ahead, grab some snacks and/or drinks of your choice. Go out to dinner with your friends or family. Pat yourself on the back, take a few days off if you’ve been working nonstop for a while, and generally enjoy yourself.

Then it’s time to get back to work. 

Now, it’s usually best to wait at least a couple days before starting in to edit. This is mainly to help get the story out of your head and help to see it again with fresh eyes: always a good thing. Then you might notice something you’d otherwise miss. This happens to me more than I’d like to admit: I’ll come back to a passage a few days after first writing it and I’ll read it and… eugh. What was I thinking? But that’s okay! At least I caught it and got rid of it before the story was published. 

But there’s one caveat here; one that I haven’t seen many other author blogs warn about, and it goes like this: if you’ve been writing for less than two years, I’d recommend that you put that book away and come back to it in a few more years. 

I’m not kidding. I’ve already gone over why a lot of authors don’t publish the very first story they ever finish, and that’s usually because a lack of experience often leads to a lack of quality. 

Occasionally, an early story will be a good story. But even the best of stories, written by the best and most experienced of authors, needs to be edited. And that’s where the years-long hiatus comes into play. 

I’ll give an example. I first wrote Crater in the Sky, my first ever published story, when I was about… 15 or 16. Then I wrote and finished the sequel, Children of the Deep, maybe six months later. I admit that at the time, I was pretty sick and tired of Crater, so I focused most of my early editing efforts on Children

And I honestly ended up making it worse. I admit that the rough draft was pretty bad, but some of my “improvements” didn’t help at all.

That’s probably the main reason why this book is taking longer to finish than the first one. While some of my editing went into clearing up plot holes and dropping hints/clues in earlier in the story, a lot of my efforts went into undoing some of the earlier changes I made to the manuscript. 

For example, the main character started out as a pickpocket, which works for the plot and for her backstory. Then, for whatever reason that I honestly can’t remember, I changed her to an accountant. 

Sure, a story told from the POV of an accountant might be cool; especially seeing how a typically non-combatant character might handle an action-packed situation. But it’s not my story, and the change completely screwed up not only my characters backstory and motivation, but also derailed the entire plot.

I had to change it, turning her back into a thief and actually justifying her involvement with the plot. It also explained her experiences and skills. For example, why would an accountant be a skilled pickpocket? For a thief, on the other hand, it makes perfect sense.  

I’ve got similar examples scattered all throughout the rough drafts of the same story (I’m currently on draft #17) and it’s evidence enough to indicate that the uninitiated and inexperienced should really avoid editing. I’m grateful that I’ve learned more since, and didn’t just go right out and publish, because boy wouldn’t that be embarrassing? 

There’s nothing wrong with being new at something and inexperienced. Just reading some of my earliest drafts that honestly don’t even deserve to be called “stories” so much as “some stuff happens and there’s some people” makes me shudder. But the inexperienced have to realize that sometimes, it’s best to just put the pen down/computer away and learn more about your craft before you make any changes. It’s not that you’re a bad writer. It’s just a lack of experience. You wouldn’t expect to illustrate a bestselling comic book series after picking up a sketchbook a few times, so why should writing be any different? 

If more authors recognized their own inexperience, I believe that there wouldn’t be nearly as many average-to-terrible on Amazon. And that would be a better world for readers and writers alike. 

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