Editing your own WIP can be an absolute nightmare. It’s like looking into a fantastical mirror and seeing all aspects of your internal thought-processes reflected back at you. Sure you see that clever bit of wordplay, or that great dialogue exchange between your protagonist and antagonist — but you also have to look at the sentences you wrote when you were tired, and start plugging some of the plot holes that you’re certain weren’t there before.
Now that I’m two weeks into editing my YA dystopian novel, I’d like to offer some very amateur advice, as well as some tips I’ve learned over the years when it comes to being self-critical on other long-form projects.
1. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Once I’m in the zone I can write at a decent pace, and with that comes a lot of basic grammar or spelling errors. It took a while, but eventually I learned to not give myself grief and label myself a “poor writer” for making such basic errors during a first draft.
Your software may pick-up on many of these mistakes, but often it’ll “correct” the sentence to something else entirely, leaving you with a three-hundred-some page document filled with facepalm-level mishaps.
You’re a writer, a storyteller, a world-builder; Absolute perfect grammar first-time is for the people who know the theory but lack the imagination to sit down every day and dream. Correcting simple mistakes are what the second, third, fourth and fifth drafts are for — So don’t give yourself a hard time when rereading your WIP for the first time.
I’m sure some people are brilliant at storytelling and produce perfect grammar first time, but I’m not one of these people, and you shouldn’t worry if you’re not either.
2. Character Voice
If I had to name a strength of mine (I’m terrible, everything I do is terrible), I’d say that my dialogue is always fairly decent. I love getting in the mind of a character and figuring out how they would communicate certain things.
In my initial draft I try to keep this in mind, but often in fast-paced or transitional scenes, mindfulness of character voice can fall to the wayside in favour of action-description or general descriptive language.
Whenever you’re reading a line of dialogue you’ve written, ask yourself; Is this how this character would say that? Think about their personality, how they choose to express themselves, vocal patterns, inflections, dialects etc. It can be tedious, sure, but I guarantee your characters will seem more, well, like characters.
In my opinion, a reader should be able to take a line of dialogue out of context and know exactly who said that line.
3. Telegraphing and Foreshadowing
Something I’m enjoying whilst redrafting this novel is the opportunity to hint at certain elements of the narrative, particularly in the early to mid chapters. In the past I’ve written surreal or character-driven stories, so writing something more conventional and attempting to keep the plot as air-tight as possible has been new and interesting.
In my first draft I (hope I) telegraphed the plot devices needed in my foreshadowed dramatic conclusion. However, during my first rewrite I’ve been adding in small sentences here and there — where appropriate — that foreshadow other aspects of the narrative.
This doesn’t mean you should be blunt in the first half of your WIP about everything that happens in the second half. Just think about character growth and how you can plant the seeds for it before the event that causes the growth happens. If you need a certain object in a dramatic scene later on, mention that object casually when initially describing the room it’s in.
Keep it subtle, the sort of quiet telegraphing that audiences don’t notice until a potential second read, or after the reveal has happened at the very least.
4. Restructuring the Building
If you’ve planned your novel out in great detail beforehand (hi), then you shouldn’t need to restructure the narrative in any major way. A whole chapter won’t need to be put in an entirely new place, because you drew up very specific blueprints and you stuck to them.
However, just because you followed your plans as though they were gospel, doesn’t mean you can’t shift the pattern of a conversation, the action in a scene, or simply the order in which two minor events happen. If it means an overall improvement to the flow of the narrative, then you definitely should.
It could be that you didn’t plan much before putting fingers to keyboard, and that’s perfectly fine! Everyone writes in different ways, and as long as you get a finished story at the end, it doesn’t matter how you got there. If that’s the case then don’t be afraid to make major changes to the order of your events. On a second read you might realise that it’s much better for your protagonist to endure struggle #2 before they go-through struggle #1.
Of course that means that struggle #2 becomes struggle #1, but I’m sure you have more memorable names for key dramatic events than “Struggles #1 and #2” — Which sounds like the name of an edgy emo album.
5. One Step at a Time
I loathe myself on the best of days, so to read the thoughts I’ve spewed out of my head-box and onto the screen can be painful. I know that other writers will be able to empathise with this.
Re-reading hundreds of pages of your own writing can be daunting, but if you take it one chapter at a time — one chapter a day even — you’ll still have performed an entire redraft in around a month. Which is better than curling into a ball, crying and not redrafting anything at all because it all seems so hopeless, pointless and meaningless (all the less’s).
There’s absolutely a lot of hard work still in front of you, but it’s much more encouraging to look back at the ten steps you’ve taken, than it is to look at the dark and shadowy ten steps ahead. Just get your head down and focus on that next step, then before you know it you’ll have crossed the bridge. Did I say we were on a bridge? Or a path? Ah it doesn’t matter now. What matters is you’re doing it!
6. Remember, You Did It!
If the mental anguish ever gets to be too much, remind yourself just how far you’ve come. You already grew a single idea into a story that can be read and enjoyed by other people, and that’s bloody brilliant.
You’ve already achieved something, remind yourself of that daily as you strive to achieve the next thing. I’m with you, I’m in your corner. We’re writers, we have each other’s backs in this creative struggle. You can do this — And the best part is that you know you can.
Today is Tuesday, September 25th and this evening my friends and I are going to watch people in pants pretend to fight.
Tip My Jar?
If you like what I write and can spare a dollar, then it’d be a greatly appreciated act of kindness! If you like what I write and can’t spare a dollar then I greatly appreciate you! If you hate what I write and also can’t spare a dollar, then why are you still reading this?