Phew. Dang. I didn’t think that introduction was ever going to get out of the way. But now what? I’ve got em hooked. What do i do with a second act? Do i have a second act? What’s my next step? Oh God. What do i do?
Panic should be your next step. So run off and take care of that. Chop Chop.
You think i’m kidding. I’m serious. Hanging out with a bunch of characters and a huge sprawling plot for months on end is not a ‘normal’ act in polite society. People frown on that. You are – officially – a weirdo. Which is fine. Weirdo’s make the best people. But a little panic is in order. You should celebrate. You should freak out a little. You should lose your mind a lot. You should wonder what comes next. You should panic. So go take care of that pronto and then come back. I’ll wait.
All right. How long did that take? Hopefully long enough because your next step in the epic that you just wrote is shoving the whole thing in a drawer for a while. Get it out of your head. Purge. You need the distance for the next step because a little distance really helps when you have to go back to it. I suggest you take up knitting or doing jigsaw puzzles or learning Swahili. Take your mind off of it and learn something new and different. Keep the brain minty fresh. You’re going to need it.
So you might ask – why? And provided you’re actually asking this WHY in relation to me suggesting you put it away for a while and think of something else, i will tell you. If your ‘Why?’ is merely general and existential i recommend Sartre or Camus. You have to get away from it is why. You have to let your brain catch up with where you are now. If you’re anything like me, that little noggin of yours has been reaching for that story in the darkest watches of the night every chance it can get it’s grubby little mitts on a spare thought. It’s like you’ve been shut in a closet with a film projector that occasionally breaks. Now is the point you come out and actually see the sun and trees and breath some air that is unadorned with the stank of mothballs.
If you were to look at it now – your story that is – you might not see anything different from what you saw yesterday. You would still be ‘In’ the story. That doesn’t help you read it and reading is what you need to do next. You need to read it just like joe schmoe on the street, if joe bothered to read anything other than the racing form.
Reading is the first act of editing.
Now when i say reading, i’m getting a little ahead of myself. Basically what i’m going to – or HOPE i’m going to – give you in the next few installments are the individual processes. What order you put them in are mostly up to you. I will not – nor CAN i say that there is ONE WAY to do this. There are only steps. Like tools. Reading is the first tool you will see in the tool box.
But there are different ways to read. So it’s a bit like a wrench. You know how there are eighty billion different types of wrenches out there.
Your first read through, in my opinion, shouldn’t be just slack jawed. After all, you already know you’re going to have to tinker with this beast. But, in my opinion, it helps if you keep your immediate goals reachable with the first read through. If you need to fix things – focus on the annoying mistakes you knew you made. Things like spelling and Your/You’re issues. This makes this step manageable and gives you a little boost to keep going. That’s important because you’re in this for the long haul. This is the first step in polishing the marble. Your story isn’t going to move and grab your readers without you committing to the process and little reachable things like that can help you – so long as you give yourself credit for them.
Give yourself credit for them. There will be innumerable opportunities to kick your own ass during the editing process and it IS going to hurt and get pretty tiring after a while. So you HAVE to remember – this is really fricking important – you MUST remember to give yourself credit. 90% of the time you are going to be your own best cheerleader. Everyone else has already gotten tired of you squirreling yourself away and not being social and unless you have a miracle angel talking cheerleading Pegacorn, you’re it.
So, Back to the reading. Read it and make those little changes. Take notes. DO NOT scribble all over your manuscript. That just diminishes your agency and gives you a consistent visual reminder of your suckitude in those moments when you least need it. I usually start with a list in a notebook – a bit like the planning period before i sat down and wrote. If i can (and lets face it – MUST) alter a sentence, that’s fine. So long as you keep the little edits reasonable. You don’t want to muck about with too much lest you start yanking on a thread that unravels the whole damned sweater.
Take notes. Make the little changes. If you have a computer program that allows you to tack on sticky notes to things, that works really well.
What sort of notes? Well… that’s really up to you. Read it for the flow first. Read to make sure the thing makes sense, that your transitions are good and that you at least have the sketch of the emotional and plot driven content you were looking for. Read CLOSELY. Read primarily for story. There will be plenty of opportunities to get nitpicky with the grammar but this isn’t one of them. Right now you just want to make sure that the structure is in place and where it isn’t, leave a note for the engineers to shore up the bulwarks. Don’t be afraid to sit and think at the end of chapters. There are times, and they aren’t rare, when i’ve written something and don’t have a clue WHY i wrote it. This is generally the step where i start to figure out why.
I generally don’t find notes like ‘this sucks’ very helpful mainly because there have been quite a few times where i come back to that note after a little while and i’m like ‘what sucks? You’re an idiot. There’s nothing wrong with that.’ Notes like ‘let loose the dialog a little here.’ or ‘find better verbs’ or ‘string this out and add tension’ seem to work much better because then you have some sort of launchpad for the next step.
Which is where the real work begins.
Make your notes specific but not so specific that you’re technically rewriting, which i will get to. And don’t forget that this is not a ‘do this first and this second’ sort of advice column thing. This is a tool box. Rewriting is the another tool i will be talking about. You may lay the wrench of reading aside on the worktable and pick up the hacksaw of rewriting and then shift back to the wrench. They don’t have to be in any particular order. All you’re looking to do is get the rough piece of wood to look a bit more like the thing you saw in the plans.
Now, finally, you have finished reading it through. I hope. You have a whole bunch of well organized notes to guide you through choosing the proper tool for the next step. But remember, before you start, take a bow. Have a sandwich. Listen to some good music and give yourself credit. You have finished the first step in editing. You are a shiny golden god. You can do this. You will do this. Because the world needs your book.
Take this step because you are about to step out of the blue and into the black.
See ya next week.