For the past two and a half years, I’ve worked as a freelance editor. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of coaching and editing for amazing writers and their stories. But during that time, I’ve also been writing.
I’m currently working on a middle-grade fantasy. I finished my first draft in May of this year. It was my first draft of a manuscript. And after a long three years of writing, rewriting, and finally discovering my plot, I was ecstatic to move on to the editing phase.
I’m an absolute geek for editing! As a content editor, I was up against my favorite challenge, and this time, I was facing it with my own beloved characters. But…as I faced down that first draft, I learned some important things from the process.
Editing your own work is hard. Even with all my skills and techniques, one big thing continued to hold me back: indecision. I struggled to make solid choices about my main character, names for side characters, world building, setting, etc…
Maybe you can relate. You LOVE your characters, and you’ve worked so hard to put together that first draft. Now you need to tear it all apart and do the work necessary to make it echo with purpose and heart. Where do you start? How do you deal with changing things you know need editing, yet you love so much?
I dealt with all these things while editing my first draft. I want to share my top 6 things to focus on when editing your first draft.
1. Take. A. Break.
Alright, I’m going to be real with you for a second. I hate taking breaks in my writing. Obviously, I fall off the bandwagon sometimes when life with two little kids, a working husband, my own job, and a puppy take over. But, when I finished my first draft, I was SO ready to edit it.
But…almost every writing craft book and author I spoke to HIGHLY recommended taking a break after you finish writing your first draft.
Why? Because it gives you the necessary distance to dig into your first draft and tear it apart. The amount of time you take away from your manuscript is up to you, but I would recommend at least two weeks. If you can hold out for a whole month, that would be even better!
2. Outline Your Current Plot and Revised Plot
When you have finished your break, the first thing I recommend doing is reading through your manuscript. Don’t make any notes on this read-through. Once you have read through it, copy your story into a new document and make an outline of your current story. If you already have an outlining method you love, use that! If you don’t have an outlining method you love, I recommend the Save the Cat method for novelists by Jessica Brody. You can find it on her website or in the Save the Cat Writes a Novel, by Jessica Brody.
Once you have your current outline down, make an outline that includes any revisions you want to make. Be sure to spend a lot of time here making those plot decisions. Plot elements always change in rewrites, but it’s important to start into revisions with a strong idea of where you are going and what needs to be cut.
3. Start with your Main Character(s)
Just like your novel’s plot, when you start editing your first draft, you want to outline your character’s arc throughout the story. Go through their development, their traits, attitude, behaviors, etc. Make sure these are working in tandem and not against each other.
Your character should grow, but they should also be consistent. Focus on your character’s wants, needs, and goals. What do they need internally to change by the end of the story? What do they want more than anything else? What are they trying to achieve by the beginning versus the end of your novel? If you can flesh those out before doing any rewrites, you’ll save yourself a lot of editing down the road.
4. Work through World Building
This point is fairly straightforward, but no matter what genre of children’s books you are writing, whether that’s contemporary fiction or fantasy, you will need to flesh out the elements of your world. Heading into editing your first draft, you can flag areas where you need to strengthen your worldbuilding.
Are there settings you can strengthen? What kind of details should you include in your world’s description? There are so many great resources out there on worldbuilding. One of my favorites is A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting, by Mary Buckham. Dig into these resources and nail down any weak worldbuilding in your manuscript!
5. Make Your Choices Now
When working with clients about finishing the first draft, I constantly emphasize banishing your inner editor. My writer’s group and I are big fans of using brackets to summarize what needs to happen when we get stuck while drafting. I would use them on everything, from names to entire scenes. When I finished the first draft, I added in that information, but not all of it. My first draft was littered with indecision.
As you begin evaluating and tackling editing your first draft, you need to commit to making decisions about any content you haven’t fully fleshed out. Like worldbuilding, leave no proverbial stone unturned. Come up with names for characters and places, flesh out settings, nail down character personalities, and don’t be afraid to take your time here. It will make a huge difference to your manuscript. When agents and readers pick up a manuscript or book, they want to be hooked into all of the unique elements of your story. Take the time now to plan those and make choices about what details you want to include to make your world rich and enthralling.
6. Embrace Rewriting
Of all of the things I learned while revising, embracing rewriting was one I didn’t think I’d advocate so strongly for. I used to think that all I needed to do for revision was work on adding in elements of world-building, straighten out some character development, and rewrite a few chapters. What I ended up realizing was how much easier it was to rewrite everything with the new plot in place.
Now, this might not be the case for you. I discovered that the entire first half of my book wasn’t working. I didn’t love it. So…I cut it all out and rewrote 17 chapters. That might sound daunting, but it actually only took me two months, and by the end, I was so much happier with the plot!
Don’t be afraid to rewrite parts or large swaths of your manuscript. It may seem daunting, but the reward is immeasurable and noticeable in your manuscript.
There are so many other revision points I could discuss here, but these are the ones I struggled with and learned the most from. Hopefully, they will guide you on your exciting and sometimes arduous revision journey. Since this is my last article for the year and for this column, I hope you will continue to improve your kid lit craft and have a wonderful writing journey. Feel free to reach out and follow me on social media!
Olivia Fisher is a children’s lit writer and freelance editor with an English degree from BYU-Idaho. When she isn’t dreaming about living in a treehouse or chasing down her two young boys, she enjoys curling up with a book, watching Star Wars, writing her next adventure, and trying to live in the state of child-like wonder that we all secretly, or not so secretly, miss. Follow her adventures on Twitter or Instagram, or hire her for your next editing escapade on Fiverr.