Let me begin again in Jean Paul-Sartre style, by stating the obvious:
to edit you must…have something to edit.
The first draft is like a newborn babe. Once born, you raise it, nurture it.
There is a certain way of looking at text that provides a powerful impetus – it is knowing that some day someone is going to read it. When that day dawns the writing you reveal must be the best you can produce and that takes time, effort, will and focus.
So how do you begin the process of editing?
Now, what you must not do is to print out all your work with pen pulsing in hand. Nor do you rush to the beginning of the text on your computer screen and start re-typing, changing names, plot elements.
You read it first.
It may be that you need to take some time out after completing a draft so that you are reading your creation with new eyes. Your mind must be clear, uncluttered. So relax. Have a cup of green tea, go for a walk in the park. Listen to the Corrs crooning on your ipod. Do you what you do to relax…and energised.
And then when you return, you’ll be mentally prepared. If you have to change the place you normally write in to reach the zone then do so.
Rreading aloud, separating the text from yourself and hearing it captured in the air always gives a certain objectivity. And as you read note things down – unless you are the world’s greatest memory monkey that does tricks as soon as the organ begins to grind, remembering a hundred zillion facts at the drop of a coin.
Record your thougths.
There are different levels in editing and I personally believe you must begin with the macro-level: structure, subject, choice of characters, themes. So when you sit down to read that first draft, look out for those things. Do not try and thrust them all into your mind. It is not possible to focus on all those elements simultaneously.
This is one approach.
1. Read for your first impression. What does the reader in you make of it?
2. Highlight parts you like, highlight parts you don’t.
3. Notice and note any gaps in the draft, transitions that are missing, inconsistencies.
4. Determine if the pace of what you have written is “rising” throughout. Where does the slope slip and descend where does it level, where does it rise again?
5. Are any characters banal? Are any characters vivid, so alive they could burst off the page? Determine the gaps, identify the strong points.
6. “Hey, does the dialogue work?” He asked, “or is it stilted?”
7. Are the style and tone consistent. Is your comedy descending into farce? Is magical realism transorming into science fiction?
8. Are you telling or showing the story?
9. Is the story still yours to tell?
When you begin editing, don’t berate yourself for bad spelling, bad grammar. Those things come much later at the micro-level. You need to get the structure right first. Find the right characters. Otherwise you’ll never finish as you’ll be seeking perfection from the first stab of the keyboard key, from the first scratch of pen on paper.
Take the analogy of a house. If you move into a new place, you check that your new home sis tructurally sound. You do the main jobs first: the plumbing, the electrics, knock down the walls, move the stairs, put in a new bathroom, a new kitchen. Then you decorate. Be patient.
So return to you manuscript. Look at it with fresh eyes and listen with both ears. Print out the draft, read it off the screen, take your laptop to the park, go and sit in the library. Do whatever you need to do and just edit.