I’m not an expert on editing. To be honest, I really don’t even enjoy it that much. It’s not a gift I possess. I am much better at being the visionary—brainstorming new ideas, structuring a plot, writing fresh words. But, like all writers, I understand the importance of editing. It’s truly what turns a story into a book.
When I worked as an advertising copywriter, it was a relatively normal occurrence for a client to take a look at the ad copy I’d written and say, “Start over.” Without a word, I’d dutifully crumple up the printout and go for a three-pointer in my office trashcan. Sometimes I’d roll my eyes and grumble about it, but most of the time I’d simply sit back down at my computer and get to work. That was my job and I wanted to do it well. I wanted to get it right. Though it may not appear so, writing advertising copy is an art. It’s a delicate combination of capturing attention, sending a message and issuing a compelling call to action. That’s hard to do in a hundred words or less. It was almost expected that I wouldn’t get it right the first time.
But those first drafts weren’t wasted trees in the trashcan. Besides offering me countless opportunities to hone my basketball skills, those first drafts were the start of something. The words on the page simply had to be mined and reshaped and polished to reach their full potential.
That’s how I’ve recently started to think of my fiction first drafts. I no longer try to get it right the first time. I know I likely won’t get it right on the second try. Or the third. Instead, I’ve developed an editing process that works for me: I write my novels in layers. I’ve found it takes the tedium out of the task. First, get the story out. Then go back as many times as necessary to mine the potential, to deepen the plot and characters, to raise the stakes, to polish each scene so it shines with originality. Writing this way actually makes me feel like I’m working a new story each time I go through.
I’ll never be a fabulous editor; it’s definitely not my passion. (I am so grateful that there are passionate editors out there!) But I think all of us can develop a customized editing process that enables us to pursue excellence in crafting, not just a good story, but the best story we can possibly write.
And when you think you’ve done all you can with it, find a talented freelance editor who will prove you wrong. 😉
A lifelong storyteller, Sara Richardson is passionate about communicating reasons for hope. Previously she has been an advertising copywriter, an Internet communications manager, and a whitewater rafting guide. In addition to writing fiction, Sara has published nonfiction articles in parenting and family magazines. As a member of MOPS International, Sara enjoys speaking to moms’ groups. She earned a master’s degree in journalism from Regent University. Visit her at www.momstories.org.