I’m not an expert on editing, despite what I like to think. However, I have done quite a bit of editing in the past few months, so I hope that I have something worthwhile to share with you guys.
First things first: start out small. I’m going to tell you a story that has nothing to do with writing. Once, when I went to Six Flags, my friend insisted we ride the Titan first. I hated it (actually, I still hate it). But, after that the rest of the rides were a breeze. Problem was, I didn’t enjoy the Titan (at all), and I didn’t enjoy the other roller coasters as much as I could have. Moral of the story: I did things backwards. Like I did with the Titan, I started off my first real editing experience with a novel. I would have benefited so much more from editing a few short stories first, but unfortunately I didn’t have the time. That said, I took my own advice after that extremely difficult speed-editing attempt. I wrote a flash fiction story and then edited it. Then I wrote another one, and then a longer one, and now I’m working on a five thousand word story. It’s getting easier.
Every list of editing tips will give you this next piece of advice, and mine is no different: print out your story. After I’ve typed up my story and read through it a few times, I always print it out and then go to town with a bunch of colored pens. It would be nice if I could say that I have a color coded system that I use to edit my stories, but I don’t. I just like the pretty colors. Anyway, it’s so much easier to see the mistakes you’ve made when you’re reading on paper instead of on the computer. This is not the time to worry about the environment (but seriously, if you’re that worried, you can print your story double sided or even save it in PDF form on your iPad or tablet or something).
The last little tidbit of knowledge I have for you is take your time. I know that personally, I have a problem with speed. I like to write quickly and edit quickly and be done with it, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it has its downsides. I will admit that all of my best work has been written in about three months or less, and while that’s alright, I have learned to slow down the editing process. This allows me to really understand what I’ve written, rather than just going crazy with the red pen. The second full novel I wrote was written in a little less than two months, and edited immediately afterwards. The crazy thing is that I didn’t really flesh out the true essence of the story until I edited it. Taking a break from your story for a while can help with this, and so can dragging the editing process out a little. Whatever you do, don’t rush.
To me, editing is more of a learning process than writing. Writing is easy. Editing requires you to truly know your story, where you want it to go and how it’s going to get there. If you’re stuck trying to edit your novel (or anything), just remember the feeling of accomplishment you got after you finished writing it and multiply that by three. You will feel so much better when your masterpiece is fit to be read by others, including agents and publishers (!).