At this point in the year, a lot of writers are close to (or already are) the finishing line on their rough drafts. NaNoWriMo gives us a good chance to get through the hardest part of any task: the first step.
Writing a good story is difficult. Specifically, writing a good novel is tremendously difficult. Somewhere in that fifty-thousand words of story is a golden nugget—possibly several. That nugget might be a theme, or a plot point, or a character. Maybe it’s scattered like gold flakes in passages of near perfection.
Regardless of where that gold is in your story, you’re finished with it. It’s time to move onto the next step.
No, the next step is not publishing.
Editing is arguably the part that takes the most effort of any task. You have gold in your story—every story out there has at least a little gold in it. Editing helps you find that gold.
And like any gold minder out there, you need the right tools. Finding the tools that work the best for you to find and tap that gold vein in your rough draft isn’t as easy as just running through a checklist of things to do before you really do move onto the publishing phase of writing. For starters, not every checklist will suit every writer. Secondly, not every story follows the same process to turn from lump of dirt into precious metal.
Outlines are one such tool. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that outlines are only for before you start writing. They can give you a big picture look at what your plot is doing and where things have gone awry. My fellow pantsers, I know how much outlining sucks, but rejoice: in this case you’re not creating one for the story, but one from the story. Write down the bare-bones structure of the story. What happens first? Next? Then? Last?
Grammar Checker. More specifically, look for a detailed grammar checker like Hemmingway, Grammarly or SlickWrite to get a detailed look at things like passive voice, vague writing, sentence complexity and word variety. This helps strengthen your writing. As a bonus, if you notice the same suggestions coming up such as a problem with filler words or passive voice, you can work on improving those across all of your writing.
Beta Readers. As the writer it’s hard to know what is and isn’t working your story. Having outsider readers to provide feedback on your manuscript. You might also find it helpful to enlist the aid of an alpha reader—that is someone who reads and provides feedback on the rough draft.
Notes. Regardless of whether you make these based on feedback, or if you make these from your own observations as you read through the story, having notes makes editing easier. Depending on your particular story this might be a note on a scene you want to add in somewhere, or even notes on your setting or characters. As much as you might think you can keep it all your head, the brain is a faulty thing. You might forget smaller details like a character’s middle name or particular and important dates.
Above all else, the one tool I recommend you have for editing is a plan. This doesn’t need to be detailed, but having a plan helps you get and stay organized throughout the editing process. This might be a checklist of what order you want to do things in, or it might just be goal of finishing your next draft by such and such a date.
One last thing. If you’re sitting on your finished draft looking towards the next step: congratulations. Now go find that gold.