January 19

Editing – Moving Past the First Draft


This happens to be a big thing in my mind right now because I’m working on the second draft of two books, and the first draft of another.

It’s the first time I’ve been in this situation. Being able to look at my editor’s comments on two books while working on a third has turned out to be a great learning opportunity. Let me share a couple of insights so you can make your first drafts stronger, and get more benefit from your editor’s comments.

The first thing to keep in mind is that an editor’s comments are not “aimed” at you. I know it feels bad when anyone says your writing is unclear, off topic or in any way less than perfect. This is something I struggle with, and it helps me to just keep reminding myself that the editor is thinking about how readers will react to the book.

Your editor’s comments are “aimed” at making you a better writer, and your current work more marketable.

Now what do you do with those edits?

My suggestion is to read through the draft with the edits and make notes about what you agree with, don’t agree with, and what you don’t understand. This is the first step in planning the changes you’ll make in the next draft.

The edits you agree with are easy to handle. Just put a mark next to them that shows you accept the edit. By the way, I do this with pen and paper so making marks is easy for me. If you’re doing this in Word, then you can use the Accept features of Track Changes.

Edits you don’t agree with are only a tiny bit harder to handle than the ones you do agree with. You can’t just throw the edit away – that defeats the purpose of having an editor. The trick is to find a wording that gives you a compromise between what you want to say and how your editor wants it said.

When the edits suggests additional content, or replacing content, you have to step back and look at the whole project. Ask yourself whether the additional content belongs in that spot or might be better used elsewhere.

In the case of being asked to replace content, the same question applies. Is the content you are removing still useful somewhere else? And, have you connected the content you are inserting to the rest of the manuscript? (Update the table of contents, index, text references, etc.)

Something I have noticed about editors is that most of their comments come in the first couple of chapters. For me, that makes those first chapters hard to read because it seems everything is being criticised.

I get past this by reading through all the edits and making my notes, then I start making changes a quarter or halfway through the draft.

It helps me to get rolling because there are fewer edits. There are lots of pages that I get to just flip past because there are no changes to make. This gives my ego a boost, and builds my momentum to handle the harder first chapters.

When there happens to be a lot of edits in a particular chapter, I sometimes skip that chapter. I know it means leaving the harder stuff for last. That’s balanced by the harder stuff being the smallest part of the work. By the time I get to the chapters with lots of edits, most of the changes are done.

At that point, I make a list of the chapters left to work on and tick them off as they’re done. It’s usually a short list so it feels great to check each one off.

Something I use to give me a break between the easier edits and the hard parts is making the “global” changes.

Sometimes you will use a phrase in the manuscript that gets changed. For example, I used “Amazon Push Campaign” in one of the drafts I’m working on now. That’s being changed, and there are lots of places to change it. In addition, there are places where I’m going to add the new phrase.

To do this, I’ll search for every occurrence of “Amazon” and make the necessary changes as I go. You can see how this is a real change of pace from working on edits. It makes for a nice break, and gives you the opportunity to get some necessary work done.

One last thing to keep in mind about working on the edits is to keep a copy of them.

By the time you’re finished the second draft of your manuscript, you should have three distinct files. One file for the first draft, another for the first draft with edits, and the third file is your second draft.

When a similar project comes up, I often go back to files where I can read the edits. Seeing some of the spots where my writing was weak, or where I got new ideas for research, helps me to make new projects stronger.

There’s my two cent’s worth. Let me know what you think. I enjoy reading your comments, and would like to know how you deal with your editor and the editing process.



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