But editing is not just a necessary evil of nitpicking your story to death. Editing is a crucial process of transformation, and with the right mindset, you can learn to enjoy the journey.
The Purpose & Philosophy of Editing.
One of my favorite quotes about writing is “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” (Terry Prachett) When you write the first draft, this version of the story is solely for you. There is so much freedom in letting your draft be messy and full of mistakes, because you are truly meeting your characters for the first time, you are exploring the world they exist in for the first time, you are taking the journey with them as a companion as much as a guide.
If you are like me, your story is much more than escapism or an idea. Another quote I love is by Ted Dekker: “Story is a series of consequential events involving worthy characters who transform as a result of those events.” And when I write that first draft, I am transforming too. See, the journey isn’t just from Point A to Point B; the journey is a change of heart and mind, a new way of seeing myself, others, and the world around me that aligns with Christ.
(But we aren’t here to talk about story philosophy! We’re talking about editing!)
Ted Dekker also talks about something called the Fictive Bubble, which is the suspension of disbelief that readers give when entering a story. They are willing to put aside what is real and step inside the imaginary. The key isn’t getting them to open the book, but keeping them from closing it again. From popping that Fictive Bubble.
Editing is taking that story and telling it to others in such a way that the reader can take that journey with you and your characters without popping the bubble.
If you were to just share your first draft, as authentic as it was for you to write, they would have a hard time seeing past the plot holes, the typos, and the loose ends. Not only that, but there may be things in your first draft that were just for you, but perhaps they are too mature, too personal, or too preachy for your target audience. These things are only going to muddy the water further and put more and more barriers between your story and your reader.
Pop! Pop! Pop!
Thus, we edit. We rewrite. We approach the story with the goal of making it accessible for our target audience by removing distractions–polishing the prose and strengthening the story. If our goal is to take the reader on the journey with us, for them to be transformed and renewed by the story as much as we have been by writing it, then editing becomes a much more important part of the process.
Editing is what transforms your story from a personal experience into something that can minister to others. Editing is when your story stops being something that primarily speaks to you, and allows it to change so that it can speak to others.
So don’t just read the words, hunting for mistakes, when you edit; see the bigger picture. Nothing is more important than the story as a whole, not a quote, a moment, or even a character. Editing is the opportunity to add, cut, and rewrite to make your story shine and keep the bubble from popping.
Practical Tips for Editing
So maybe you are sitting there reading this and thinking, “Okay, editing is important! Editing matters! I want my story to speak to others! But I still hate it. It is still hard.”
Here are some of my tips for making the editing process less of a drag while also improving your story:
1. Mix It Up:
Don’t just edit your story on your computer screen. Your readers will likely have either a physical book or ebook in their hands, or listening to an audiobook! So try printing out your story and edit with a pen (yes, it’s a lot of pages, but worth it!), or read it aloud to yourself and listen. Seeing your story with different mediums can help to keep it feeling fresh.
2. Track Your Progress:
Give yourself little endorphins of achievement by using a tracker sheet, app, or sticky notes. In my final rewrite for A Bond of Briars, I printed out my pages and marked edits with sticky notes. Then, as I applied the edits on the computer, I got to take those sticky notes, crumple them up, and throw them away! It really made editing a lot more exciting.
3. Invite Others In:
One of the biggest tips I’ve received for publishing is to have 10 readers before you say your book is done. This 10 can include Critique Partners, Beta Readers, and Editors. Receiving feedback not only helps you to make sure your story is speaking (or point out problems!), but will also give you confidence when it comes time to publish.
4. Celebrate Progress & Milestones:
I am a big advocate for celebrating the little things. Did you edit 10 chapters or finish a draft? Get yourself a fancy drinkie! Or cozy up with your favorite book for an hour! Celebrating the progress you are making validates the work you are putting into the story AND gives you a reminder to rest amidst the work.
My personal cycle for editing (after the first draft) looks like this: Print Out, Read & Mark Edits -> Apply Edits & Rewrites – > Read Aloud from Computer & Polish -> Send for Feedback -> Break time! Work on the next story! -> Receive Feedback -> Print Out, Read & Mark Edits…
This may seem like a lot for one round of editing, but it gets a lot done and makes sure my story is as tight and polished as possible by the time it reaches publishing. It gives me the best shot at removing as many distractions as possible to keep the bubble from popping in hopes that my readers will be as transformed by the story as I was.
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