To start out with, I want to define two terms for the context of what I’m writing:
Editing is when you fiddle with the small details, using your editor brain.
Rewriting is when you fiddle with the larger details (style is a larger detail made up of many small choices, by the way), using your writer brain.
Editing is checking for missing commas. Rewriting is checking that you’ve nailed your ending and have left the readers wanting more.
Now, professional editors will use “editing” differently, and break it down into stages, one of which may be “line editing,” which is checking for the same kind of thing a writer will do when rewriting. That’s okay. For our purposes, editing is what your editor brain does, and rewriting is what your writer brain does.
You should use the writer part of your brain to get your story ready for the editor part of your brain. The editor part of your brain, exposed to a naked first draft, will become whiny, irritable, and resent the story more than is necessary.
So first, back up the original version of your story and double-check that you’re not making changes to that version.
Second, do a writer’s sanity check:
- Run a spelling and grammar check. As you run through it, note down any terms, spellings, or phrases that you don’t want changed in a separate file.
- Read through the work, looking for big oopsies of consistency in content (for example, in scene 1, your main character is male; scene 2, your main character has unintentionally become female; I, for example, have a hard time remembering that I’ve changed a minor character’s name in the middle of the book).
- Also look for the things that your spelling and grammar check can’t pick up, like homonyms and gobsmacked sentences that read as gibberish as you scan through. Big uglies only.
Do this very quickly, rather than slowly and meticulously. Slow and meticulous is for editor brain, not writer brain, and you will get to the slow and meticulous stages in a bit. You’re looking for the things that jump out at your writer’s eye, because those are the things your editor brain likely won’t catch.
Once you’ve done this, your story is ready for first/beta readers or a critique group, if you’re using them.
Tips on first readers, etc.:
- It’s your damn story, not theirs. You’re the expert, not them.
- That being said, if you like a piece of advice, use it.
- Your primary purpose is to find out whether your readers liked the story.
- If the readers didn’t finish the story, find out where they quit reading.
- Politely listen to any excuses about why they didn’t read/didn’t finish the story, but keep in mind that a really good story will overcome pretty much any rational excuse other than, “I lost the book.” And even then, another copy of the book will be obtained.
- Readers may not be able to articulate why they did/didn’t like the story. That is okay.
- Try to find readers who read what you’re writing, but it can be helpful to have readers who don’t, too.
Again, do not feel obligated to make any specific “fixes” based on comments.
If you find yourself saying, “Damn it, I like my commas messed up exactly the way they are,” you should probably leave them alone (at this point, anyway, while you’re wearing your writer hat). You may be wrong, and your readers may hate the way you use commas. You will consider this later, when you have your editor hat on. Don’t worry about it now.
Next, and most importantly as far as your editor brain is concerned, make up your mind that your story is good enough to be published as an ebook. There are two ways to do this:
- Write a story that is good enough.
- Rewrite the content of the story until it’s good enough.
I have to caution that no story is perfect; a lot of writers want to write perfect stories, and when their first drafts don’t come out the way they want them to, they rewrite the story. Or when they discover that they don’t know as much about writing as they thought (for example, when to head-jump effectively), they will rewrite.
Yes, some stories need to be rewritten.
However, writers tend to be insecure and do far more rewriting and far less self-acceptance than they should. Consider affirming the goodness of your story a few times before you take an axe to it; the problems of your story may be more in your head than they are on the page. Rather than being the parent who nags your baby into a nervous, self-defensive, perfectly-well-behaved wreck, be the parent who makes sure your child has clothes on, knows not to bite people (unless they deserve it), and kick them out the door.
As a writer, I struggle with this as much as anybody. As a parent, too. But our kids and stories have to get out the door, sooner rather than later, and with kindness rather than demands for perfection.
Know this: once you hand your story over to your editor brain (or to an actual editor), you are done making content changes. It is a complete and utter waste of your time to start editing and then make a content change, because you must start the editing process over again. Do not waste your time. Do whatever it takes to make peace with yourself and your story before you start editing.
Finally, once you’ve decided that your story is good enough and is ready to go up, do a writer’s sanity check one more time if you’ve made any changes. You’ll be surprised how much you can screw up with one innocent little change. Revert to your original version, if necessary.
When you create your story, use indents, not tabs. Or double carriage returns after paragraphs. Set a formatting style that makes your paragraphs look the way you feel comfortable with, but don’t hard-code extra crap into your work. Your internal editor will thank you.