November has ended, and for many writers, we know what that means—National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo) is finally over! Congratulate yourself. You made it! If all went well, you have a finished first draft of a novel in front of you. Now what? You know it’s not ready to send out anywhere, not after writing at a breakneck pace and never editing anything. It’s time to sort through the pages, find that gold and polish it to a shine…and to toss the stuff that doesn’t work or doesn’t belong.
And how to you do that? Where do you start? Facing a completed draft can be daunting, especially if this is the first book you ever finished. My advice to you is to start with the first step: read the book straight through.
Before you were a writer, you were probably a reader. You know instinctively when a story is proceeding well or when it has veered off on some strange path. By starting at page one and reading all the way to the end of your own draft, you will get a good idea of what works and what doesn’t, what parts need to be fleshed out, or even what stuff may be missing. So many times, someone has read a draft of mine and asked a question about something I thought was obvious, only for me to realize that I never put that part in the book!
The trick to reading your draft straight through is to not get distracted with typos or line editing. You are reading your draft as a reader, not a writer. Do you need to make notes as you go so you can come back later? Of course. But don’t get so wrapped up in the minutiae that you lose sight of the big picture.
If you’re like me and you’re sitting in front of a computer screen or you’re reading a printed draft, it will be very difficult not to start tweaking things as you read. But that negates what you are trying to accomplish. You’re focusing on content first, not grammar or spelling. (That comes later.) Does everything make sense? Are you missing anything…or maybe you said the same thing too many times?
The best way I’ve found to read my work and not be able to edit it, is to send the book to my Kindle. For a small fee (a couple of dollars at the most), you can send your document to your Kindle by emailing your Word doc to KindleNameXX@Kindle.com, where KindleNameXX is replaced by the actual name of your Kindle. You can find your Kindle name in your settings, and very often it is the first part of your email address before the @ sign. For example: the Kindle name for MaryWriter@myemail.com might be MaryWriter@kindle.com.
Shortly after you send it, your manuscript will be translated into Kindle format and show up on your Kindle. Now you can read the draft straight through without really being able to edit it. Doing this way also makes your draft look like a published book, which is exciting and makes it easier to think of yourself as a reader rather than the writer.
If you are going to send your manuscript to your e-reader, I would advise keeping a pen and paper on hand so you can jot down things as you go that pull you out of the story. This way you have these speed bumps recorded so you can return to them in the editing phase, and you can keep reading without further distraction.
I hope this gets you started and makes the prospect of editing your manuscript less intimidating. Remember, you wrote this book one word at a time and you can edit it the same way. Happy reading!
Debra Mullins is the author of thirteen historical romances for Avon Books and three contemporary paranormals for Tor. She has been nominated for various awards, including the Holt Medallion, the Golden Heart and the RITA. She is the winner of the Golden Leaf Award for Best Historical, the Book Buyer’s Best Award for Best Paranormal and the National Readers Choice Award for Best Paranormal.
She has spoken at chapter meetings for OCCRWA, East Valley Authors and NJRW, and conferences such as Emerald City Writers Conference, Liberty States Fiction Writers conference and RWA National. She will be presenting her workshop Self Editing: 10 Tips to Make Your Words Pop at the conference in March.
Born and raised in the New York/New Jersey area, Debra now lives in California and has been actively writing for over twenty years. She is a member of East Valley Authors, OCCRWA, FF&P, Novelists Inc., and Liberty States Fiction Writers