I have a confession: I love editing.
There. I said it.
I know this will come as a shock to some people, because there are lots of folks who crave the creative freedom of drafting a story, and revising it is just so . . . dull. The story's already written, and editing it is just fixing commas and whatnot. Right?
I mean, yes, for the love of punctuation, fix your commas, but that's not all there is to editing. As you write your first draft, you will no doubt find yourself adding events or mysteries and never getting back to them, or adding something late in the book that comes completely out of nowhere. Or maybe your characters have random conversations without a point, take multiple trips from one end of the world to the other, and you've got three or four characters fulfilling the same role.
Even if you outline your story and think you know exactly where it's going to end up, there are still often surprises and things that need to be fixed. Characters get combined (or cut altogether!); trips across the world get consolidated; extraneous plotlines get snipped; conversations and fight scenes get focused until they're clear and make sense.
All these things need to be fixed, and doing that will make your story stronger, smarter, and help readers get through it without confusion.
Then you reach the point where you're not fixing things so much as making them better. Like how?
By identifying important themes and symbols, and bringing them out and weaving them throughout the story so they're consistent. By identifying character motivations and making them stronger. By looking at every sentence and making sure it is clear and says exactly what you want it to say. And by looking at every word and making sure it's the strongest word you can use, and conveys just the right emotion. (For example, maybe someone doesn't just walk, but they mosey or saunter or plod.)
Admittedly, this is one of the harder parts of editing: seeing what isn't there and figuring out how to add it. But it's also the part where you bring your story up to the next level -- where it goes from decent to good to GREAT.
But beware the impulse to dive right into edits, especially after typing "The End" on the first draft (what a great feeling!) or receiving the most excellent of excellent critiques from crit partners or an editor. Take a few days to think about the story, the comments, the concerns. Or a couple weeks! The amount of time you need depends on you. Personally, nothing makes me clean my house like receiving an edit letter with a deadline on the horizon; I think it's preparation for the time of No Laundry While I'm Editing.
Yes, it's a lot of work, but so is writing a first draft. And why put the effort into writing a first draft if you're not going to make the final product the best that it can be?
Because that's what editing does: it peels off the layers of extra mush until you get to the gem at the core. Every draft should get the story closer to the story you really want to tell.
Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. Visit her online at www.jodimeadows.com.