How to Make Editing Easier: Simple Tips to Make Your First Draft Better

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I’ve often heard it said about you first draft, “Just get it written.” I agree it is extremely important to finish your project, however, there is one thing to keep in mind…if the editing is too daunting, you may never take your finished crappy first draft and turn it into what you want to.

I’ve come to realize that I much prefer the writing process to the editing. Writing is an escape. It’s a creative mind dump, playing with your characters, following them on a journey as it unfolds. Editing is work. It’s reading your work of art and saying, “That doesn’t sound right. That has to change. What kind of car was that? What did I mean when I wrote — Xxxxxxxx change this later? Wow, I must have written that part when I was half asleep.”

When I write, I enter a different world and it is easy to find the time. I write anywhere I can, any time I can. I thoroughly enjoy it. When I edit, I’m easily distracted. I’d rather not do it. In fact, I’d written four books before I finished editing my first. I strongly believe, we have to acknowledge our weaknesses and try and find ways to work through them. Here’s what I’ve figured out. With a few time saving tricks, I can make my first draft better.

Sounds easy, but when your in the groove and the words are flowing, you don’t want to stop for anything. There are a number of points that will yank me right out of the flow. We will each have our own, but mine are coming up with new names, confirming details, and verifying research.

Coming up with names for new characters.
I wrote a post on how I made this easier. Check it out. In summary, I created a folder with some good websites for coming up with names. I now have them easily accessible. Just last night I needed a name and had one in seconds.

Remembering the fine details.
Names, makes and models of vehicles, someone’s appearance and what their wearing. In the past, I’ve used a series of x’s, and then I catch them on the next pass. Guess what — it’s no easier then. Now I start an easy-to-find reference page. Maybe it’s a second document, or I’ve also put it at the end of the story and bookmarked it for fast reference. Start by listing all the characters when you introduce them. Any details you write about them, just copy and paste it under their name as reference. It doesn’t take long and creates a go-to place to find answers when you need them. Same thing with the details: the street names, addresses, type of weapon, age…anything you might need later. Take the little time to organize it as you go, and save a lot of time later.

Create a summary document for the book.
When your finished the book, put all the reference information into a file that you can easily find later. You might think you’ll never forget the details — especially after you’ve re-read it ten or fifteen times, but you will. When you are writing the next book in the series, you can have your reference document open, and use “find” to easily look up small details. I also create a timeline for the books in the series. In Going Under: A Bill Roberts Thriller, Bill Roberts’ daughter is 16, his wife died two years ago and he’s been at his current job four years (It took me seconds to look that up, by the way). White Lady takes place a couple months later, and Paralyzer six months after that. It can start to get confusing pretty quick without reference notes. And, it’s a lot harder to go back and make the notes later.

Save your research.
When you’re researching details and you find websites you think might be useful, save them in a file. You can create a file in you browser’s bookmarks or copy and paste the URL’s into a document so you can make notes on what it was useful for. You never know when you might need it again and it will save you time trying to hunt it down. There’s also a good possibility you’ll be looking for similar sites for your next book. When researching Going Under: A Bill Roberts Thriller, I researched various things like the hierarchy of a police force, particulars on handguns, vehicles, and the layout of the City of Toronto, to name just a few. When I did the next two in the series, tentatively called White Lady, and Paralyzer, I had the same reference sites available. I had to learn this the hard way, trying to remember the search words I used a few weeks before, when I wanted to confirm some small detail – a frustrating time waster.

Outlining.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I write better when I have some sort of an outline. I’m still experimenting with what works best for me, but I seem to be somewhere in the middle of an outliner and a pantser. I wrote 14 Gable Lane in fifty days and there’s no way I could have done it so fast and efficiently without an outline. Even though I went way off track, the outline at least gave me direction.

Do you have any tips for making your first draft better? Leave them in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Write on,

Silas Payton

Image by Nic McPhee on Flickr

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7 thoughts on “How to Make Editing Easier: Simple Tips to Make Your First Draft Better

  1. What a great post! Very useful. I can’t believe you finished 4 books before you edited the first. Too funny. I sort of like editing if I do it as I go. I try to edit a bit before I start writing each time to get my juices flowing. It seems to work. But…I need to stop myself. I could edit forever. Thanks for the link on names. I need that. And I’m definitely going to create a resource file and a “details” file after reading this. Thanks!

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    • Hi Erin. Thanks for stopping by. Editing is admittedly my weakness. Every time I read it, I change something. I know it makes for a better book but I find it tedious after a while. I’ve committed to myself to edit my last 2 before I start my next, but it is very hard not writing. A couple good points are, I know my editing process will improve, and I’ll have 4 books out this year. I published one in Jan. and #2 is due out in the next couple weeks. I actually did a real rough 5th. as well. Glad I made you laugh.

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    • Hi David. Thanks for stopping by. Your book looks great and the reviews are good. I’ll add it to my list of reference books. I also see you have a lot of books behind your name. Great to hear of another success story in writing. I have no doubt, yours would be words of wisdom. Thanks. SP

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