Bestselling author Terry Pratchett once said:
The first draft is just telling yourself the story.
He was right: getting something – anything – down on paper is the first thing you must do as a writer. But after that you must face that awful prospect of EDITING YOUR WORK.
This is where most writers fall down. They re-read what they’ve spent months – maybe even years – writing and think it’s not actually very good. The task of fixing it seems too big, too daunting. So they give up. And that is why there are so many unfinished novels languishing on PCs all over the world.
But this is the real test of your mettle as an author. To edit your work is to take away the ART of writing and make it a SCIENCE. And to get where you want to be, reworking your writing has to be merciless. So I’ve pulled together a few ways of getting TOUGH with your edit, so that you don’t let all your writing effort go to waste.
This is a writer’s number one mistake. To write a successful novel you must look at what you’ve created so far totally dispassionately. Forget how many hours it took you to create that description of your main character: if it’s a cliche and doesn’t work then you must DO IT AGAIN. A simple way of doing this is to change the names of your characters, just for this exercise. Reading your work all the way through with Jane as your protagonist instead of Amy will immediately make you feel less attached to her, and as a result, better able to make dispassionate decisions about how you describe her appearance, thoughts and feelings, and how you write her dialogue.
Allocate chapters to each section of your timeline and see what purpose each chapter serves to progress the story. If a chapter doesn’t progress the story – no matter how beautiful the descriptions and magical the setting – it’s got to go.
A common mistake writers make is that they use far too many descriptive words. This immediately makes your writing lose impact, as the reader is distracted and confused. Picking the right adjective is far more important than a scatter-gun approach to description.
Even your minor characters must serve a purpose – it might be to act as a ‘reveal’ to another character, create suspicion in a mystery novel, or act as a sounding board for your protagonist. Write down the purpose of each one of your characters in one sentence. If it takes you more than five minutes to think of a character’s purpose, you need to seriously consider deleting him from your novel.
Recurring locations in a novel – a spooky forest, a place of work or a magical garden – can act as anchors in your writing and create a very strong sense of place. But introduce too many spaces at your peril. It will confuse the reader and dilute any strong locations you already have. This in turn throws the reader out of the story. Make a note of all the locations you use in your novel now, and if there are more than five main locations think about whether any of the action could take place in a location already introduced.