Let’s think back to our first draft for a moment, okay? We all tried to get all of our ideas down onto paper and repress our inner editors. We met our word count goals and had fun doing it. We lost ourselves in stories that no longer existed only in our heads.
Now things are a little different. I made a mistake during the editing process of my first novel (unpublished, of course) and I’d like to warn you so you don’t do it too. I’d also kind of like to take this as a warning for myself… so I don’t try to get away with it again.
In our first drafts, we poured our hearts and souls into our stories. We put everything we had into it, and fell in love with our stories, just the way they were.
But, unfortunately, there comes a time when we find a problem in our beautiful manuscripts. And another problem. And a few more.
And the idea of changing it scares us, because what if we ruin it all? Can’t we just build off of what we have now, instead of taking a couple steps backwards?
This is when we are supposed to be releasing those inner editors to run free after a draft of being locked up. They are supposed to tear our manuscripts to pieces, shredding the problems like rabid animals. That’s the difficult part. We can’t just leave it up to the inner editor because they need us to fix the things they find and take out.
Take out. Delete. Backspace. Scary ideas, I know.
You understand what I’m saying, right?
Yes, these stories that we wrote will have problems in them that can’t just be fixed. Sometimes, you’re going to have to take out huge parts that you loved writing. You will have to replace them with things that make sense, things that aren’t so problematic. Or maybe they were cluttering up the piece and we don’t replace them at all, because they didn’t leave a space that should be filled.
In my first book, I found a lot of problems with the manuscript. A lot of loose ends that were never tied up, scenes that were never explained. There were a lot of useless scenes that I enjoyed writing, but didn’t need to write. The cluttering parts. And some of the major plot point were messed up, too. Just an example, here: my surprise-bad-guy was obviously the bad guy the entire time. It’s like if Snape ended up trying to steal the philosopher’s stone, and not Quirrel. If he was the bad guy in book one, and Harry knew all along.
How is that good? There’s no major plot twist if that happens!
So here’s the deal: if you have a problem in your story, don’t to what I did. I just shrugged and thought, “Eh, it’s fine the way it is. It’s too late to delete it anyway. The story wouldn’t make sense without it.”
It’s not too late. Don’t go in and elaborate on all of your description and characterization until you are sure. In the art course I’m taking, we always check our proportions and shape of the outlines before adding detail. That way if we need to adjust it and make it different, we won’t have to add all of the details all over again after we are done fixing. Fix the skeleton, then add the skin and personality.
Don’t let it go. Please. I don’t want you to have to look back and not like this book you’ve been working on for months (or years) because you didn’t press the backspace button. Because you didn’t try to do the tougher editing… the major kind. Little details and grammar and word choice is easy compared to major editing.
But major editing is essential. If you never actually step back and look at the tower you’re building, you might not realize that it’s crooked until you’ve already finished it.
This is why I needed a more detailed and planned outline. In Holding My Breath, I had a few empty holes in the outline, and then I didn’t fill them in. I thought that I would come up with something by the time I got to that point in the story, but I didn’t. So I just added a cliche in to replace later. Little did I know that this little cliche was going to grow into more than just a placeholder to get from point A to point B… and now it’s going to be so much harder to replace it.
Now I have to think of a scenario that gets almost the exact same results… and I’m struggling with that. There are so many factors to keep in mind and I don’t know of anything that will match up.
But I will figure it out. Because I know that when I am done, I will be much more happy with it than I was before.
I’ll go ahead and give you another warning. I know that you’re cringing at the idea of taking something out of your book. Something that would be so great, if it were just more relevant or not so problematic. Maybe it is even your favorite scene. I know mine is… well, it’s tied with another scene that I can keep. So that’s good.
And yes, it will hurt. You’ll hate that it isn’t there anymore. It will be hard, but you’ll be fine. You’ll find something better to put in it’s place.
But this isn’t necessarily goodbye. Don’t delete it. Just cut it out and paste it into a “Spare body parts,” type of document. Later, you can get an idea from it. Or maybe it will be a bonus chapter one day, for limited edition copies or something. Maybe you can use some of that description in the book in other scenes, or maybe in another story. The possibilities are endless. It’s not goodbye. So don’t get too worked up.
And if you find that it is fixable, or you found a way to make it relevant to the plot, then you can always add it back in somewhere. These decisions are always possible to be backed out of. Nothing’s permanent until you finish your final draft.
My challenge for you is to take a closer look at your problems. Is there clutter? Is there an irrelevant scene? Is there are character who just doesn’t need to be there? Are there any loose ends that you can’t manage to tie up?
Don’t be afraid to change things around. You’ve backed up your novel somewhere, right? Right?
There’s always the undo button.
Think of it like this: Do you want to wonder whether your story could have been better when you are finally done and published? Or would you like to know now, without being locked into any major changes? With the comfort of that back button beside you?
Sure, it may add another draft or two and take a little more time, but this is your book. Yours. You like it now, but what about when you start only seeing the problems? What about when it’s published? Wouldn’t you want to be proud of it?
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Thank you for reading, and don’t stop writing!
PS: Thank you to everyone for the wonderful comments. I’m glad that these posts are helpful to you and your advice is really helpful to me too:) Good luck writing!