I’ve been writing my book, Footfall, for almost a whole year (+/- a few months). Right now I’m in the heart of my revision process. I’ve sent the book out to a few beta readers, and as I look back on the rounds of editing the book has gone through so far, I have come to a very interesting conclusion: I’ve been doing it wrong. By “it” I mean the whole process: writing, rewriting, revising, etc. Obviously I’m being a little hyperbolic and thanks to my many revisions, I’ve fixed my mistakes. However, next time around I’m going to go about it differently. So, in the interest of preserving this realization for myself and in helping any of you aspiring writers out there, here are three mistakes I’ve made in my writing process that have really hurt my editing.
I Didn’t Start With an Outline
Technically speaking, an outline should happen as the very first step of the writing process. However, I didn’t start with an outline and I’m feeling the pain now in my editing process. An outline serves as a sort of map for a writer. It should show where your story starts, where conflict begins, and how it all resolves. Ideally, a good outline will even include a breakdown of chapters. I decided writing by the seat of my pants would produce a more “organic” story than an outline, and I skipped this step. However, I ended up having to entirely rewrite my novel to encompass all the changes I decided to make halfway through my second draft. I still had to pull out old stuff that wiggled its way into the rewrite when I went back for more edits. While an outline sounded like a pain, I know now that I could have saved myself a lot of time and effort if I had hammered out the major story elements in an outline in the beginning.
I Didn’t Take Many Notes as I Went
I chalk up my lack of note taking to laziness. I read plenty of articles that advised taking thorough notes on place or character names and descriptions. It really is important to make those decisions early on to ensure consistency in the book. I had good intentions of doing this, too. I have a few half-finished lists of possible character names. However, I never sat down and wrote out all of my characters names and how I needed to describe them. This means that as I go back and edit, I have to be very conscious of spelling and which characters have what coloring. Not only that, but location names and descriptions have to be double checked for consistency as well. Again, I would have saved myself a lot of time on this end if I had done more planning at the the beginning.
I Didn’t Reread Until I Was Finished
A lot of writing advice blogs say a writer shouldn’t read their work as they go and they should just keep writing until they finish. There’s certainly a benefit to this; not stopping to read means there’s less chance of getting bogged down in rewrites before you finish. Unfortunately, the down side to this is the possibility of a painful lack of consistency in the end. For example, in my own book, a spy decides his position at the enemy base is in jeopardy and decides to leave. This information was passed on to my main characters in the middle of the book. By the end of the book, I forgot that my characters already knew this information, and I wrote a version of the previous conversation. Books take a lot of time to write, so it’s no wonder that I had a hard time keeping track of what my character’s knew and what they didn’t. If I had reread while I was going, I might have avoided this problem.
Now, because I even had a revision cycle, the mistakes I’ve made above will not hurt the final product. However, I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of time revising things that should not have needed fixed if I’d done things properly. I also worry that I’ve neglected other important elements in my editing, like character voice consistency, because I’ve put so much effort elsewhere. All I can say is thank goodness for beta readers.
So, do you guys have any helpful writing/editing tips to share? I’m going to be at this editing thing for a while and any advice would be appreciated.