I don’t find it too difficult to write a first draft of a novel. It’s a fun challenge to explore the story and characters, and the feeling of writing 50k+ words is incredible. If fact, I’ve now written 3 first drafts, but none of my books are published. I frequently get asked why and when they will be available to read. The short answer is that I didn’t know how to edit. The long answer is below. Brace yourself for a long post.
Trying to edit without a guide:
I wrote my first first draft of a novel back in 2010 when I wrote Zombie Love for NaNoWriMo. I immediately began editing, then realized I needed to put some distance between the first draft and the second pass. Life got in the way, and I began a second draft in 2013. I got all the way through, but I was basically reworking sentences and checking punctuation, and something didn’t feel right. I tried again in 2014, but again, hit a roadblock. Around that time, I began sinking into depression and did no editing or writing (and nearly no reading) until 2017.
As part of my etsy business (I promise this is relevant), I attended WhedonCon in 2017 as a vendor. While there, I ran into several other writers, who reminded me how much I missed writing. After the convention, I hopped on Facebook and began randomly joining writing groups. I rarely post, but I’m excellent at lurking, which is a great way to learn. I learned a lot about the publishing process: I gained a better understanding of how to go about editing my own stories before finding beta readers (which I didn’t know about), then getting an editor, and eventually, an agent (if all goes well). Likewise, I found recommendations for several books on perfecting a novel, which I’ve been reading through.
With this new knowledge, I began another pass at editing. But before I did, I sat down and made character profiles and maps of the buildings where my story was set. I began my fourth edit of Zombie Love, editing paragraph by paragraph. But something still wasn’t working.
Editing for real
I finally figured out what had been going wrong: I had been editing paragraph by paragraph rather than looking at the novel as a whole. I printed out the fourth draft and did a straight read-through WITHOUT editing, making notes as I went. I realized that, logically, I needed at least one new character, and a few scenes were missing. I then began draft five in a completely different way than I’d worked through the prior four drafts. This time, I took the concepts of each section, or sometimes a full scene, and rewrote them completely. I kept occasional phrases, but there have been dramatic changes.
October 2018 was a great editing month for me; go figure, it’s pretty easy to edit a zombie book around Halloween. I took a break to complete NaNoWriMo 2018 (finishing the first draft of Adventures on the Epi), and then took a writing break through December.
What are you currently editing?
After a steep learning curve, I decided I needed to once again put aside Zombie Love before I go back to editing. Part of that decision has to do with marketing, as well. I realized that making a publishing debut with a zombie book is likely to pigeon-hole me into the horror genre, which is the last thing I want. I enjoy writing satire, not necessarily horror.
I finished my second first draft during NaNoWriMo 2017, when I made the first pass of This Book is a Disaster. Realizing that I want to seriously pursue a writing career, I realized that a good cycle for me would be to write a new first draft during NaNoWriMo, take a break in December, then edit the prior year’s NaNo draft starting in January. Since I wrote Disaster in 2017, I edited Zombie in 2018, then wrote Epi for NaNo in 2018. To keep on track, I should be editing 2017’s NaNo project in 2019 (wow, I hope that made sense).
I might not have finished Zombie Love, but 2019 seemed like a great time to try out my writing goals. I printed out my first draft of Disaster early January, and have been doing my initial read-through. I hope to finish the read-through by the end of this week, then I’ll begin the first rewrite. My goal is to be pitching Disaster before I start a new book for NaNo 2019. (And, if you’re following along, I will be editing Epi beginning 2020. Hopefully I fit the edits for Zombie Love somewhere along the way because I’d really like to see that published at some point.) So basically, I’m trying a fresh pass at editing from the very first draft, and we’ll see how it goes!
A few notes:
Throughout this process, there were many other writing-related things that took place. I decided to purposely pursue my dream of becoming an author in early 2018, and there were a lot of things to get the ball rolling: website, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I learned to balance posting on all these sites, including blogging, while still needing to make progress with my novels. I rediscovered my love for reading (after my depression began to subside), and read posts on my writing groups fanatically. I wrote a few short stories and even submitted them. It might not look like a lot has happened with my novels thusfar, but there has been a lot of learning and behind-the-scenes work. I’m hoping to pick up the pace this year and get a novel in the almost-published stage before 2020 hits.