Have you ever seen an ugly baby? Before you get on your “nice person” high horse and tell me that no baby is ugly with a perfectly coiffed scoff, I am just going to chime in and say you’re wrong.
Babies are aliens that have been squished into a shape so it can fit through a hole far too little for it to fit through so they can come into the world. It’s amazing that any of them manage to come out looking reasonably unoffensive.
That said, put your baby in front of me, and you bet your last dollar that I’m going to be saying how gosh darn adorable they are – not because it is, but because it’s just what you do as a member of this society.
A first draft that isn’t working is like an ugly baby. It’s hard to admit when it’s not great, especially after how much work you put in to bring it into the world.
But in order to be a successful writer, you have to be willing to see your work for what it is. And, if it’s bad, you have to be willing to admit it. What’s great, though, is that now you have the chance to fix it. And, because you’ve finished the first draft, you have a genuine opportunity to go in and make strong edits, so you come out with an awesome second draft.
Identify the Issues
This is the easier said than done portion of the article.
There are a few different things you can do at this point. My suggestion would be to find a knowledgeable beta reader who can give some guiding suggestions – because they aren’t close to the piece, they’ll be able to give the harsh advice that you need. You can also consider hiring a freelancer to do a manuscript review or developmental edit. These broad-stroke edits will give you the high-level advice that will help you find the areas in your manuscript that are causing the most issues.
You can also go in and do some heavy analysis on your own. Because you’re a little bit too close to the manuscript, I would suggest completing a formulaic character, plot, and setting analysis. In the process, you might see where there are shortcomings in your work.
Another way you can self-diagnose issues is to do something that should already be on your to do list: read! Identify books that are similar to what you are working on and have received good reviews. As you read, look carefully at what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. Let yourself be inspired by what they’re doing and consider learning something from them. If you put the time in here, you might just hit a point where you catch yourself thinking of the ways you could fix your own manuscript.
Create an Editing Action Plan
Once you know what needs to be changed, it’s time to change it. Now that you have a comprehensive list of things to change, give yourself steps to do it.
To keep yourself from burning out, create very clear steps. For instance, if you need to make your dialogue snappier and you have ten chapters, create ten steps on your to do list. Make sure each step is a bite-sized chunk that you can tackle in one sitting. This will not only keep you on track to get through your edits, but you’ll be able to set a schedule for doing so that is actually manageable.
Be Ready for a Third Draft, and a Fourth
When you’re done with your next draft, I guarantee that it will be stronger than your first. But, if we return to the ugly baby metaphor, then we now have a draft going through puberty. Like a teen adopts a rigorous skincare regime, you might need to go through additional edits in order to help your manuscript get to its final glorious tone.
Writing is never done. Authors with bestsellers will be able to point out the line, paragraph, or even chapter of their book that they wish they could go back and edit.