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The First Major Edit

While most authors find writing a manuscript to be an enjoyable process, they find editing to be a painful necessity. In this article, I will share my thoughts on how to effectively deal with the first major edit of a manuscript.

Throughout the process of writing, we are constantly editing our work, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by page. I call that the active editing phase. Once we have completed our first draft, we go back through the chapters one by one for fine-tuning and consistency. I call that the initial revisions phase. Next, we send our manuscript off to our editors for their review. Once they have provided feedback, we need to address their concerns and make the necessary changes. I call that the first major edit.

It is never fun to hear that you’ve made some serious mistakes, but it is much better to hear about them from an editor than it is to read about them in a review. Punctuation and spelling errors are easier to stomach than critical comments on content like hollow dialogue, vanilla characters, or lackluster plot, but we must take everything into consideration without taking the criticisms personally.

Writing a novel is like building a house and working with an editor is like coordinating with a contractor for construction.

At the end of the day, it is your vision. If the final product doesn’t fit within your specifications and meet your expectations, then you won’t be happy with the result. At the same time, you have to remain flexible and open to the advice, directions, and cautionary warnings of the experts. If the contractor says the foundation outlined in the blueprint is insufficient for supporting a house of this size, then you must find a way to strengthen the foundation. If an editor says that your characters seem bland or contrived, then you must find a way to enrich them.

Most editors provide all of their comments, concerns, criticisms, and suggestions in a single comprehensive review, hitting you with everything at once. By the time you’ve gone through them all, it can feel a bit overwhelming and self-doubt can set in. You may even begin to wonder if your manuscript is salvageable. These are normal reactions, but you cannot let them dissuade you. Instead, consider their input, begin your first major edit, and, before you know it, you’ll be looking at a much better manuscript.

Here are a few suggestions on how to handle your first major edit:

1. Start with the grammar.

Correcting punctuation and spelling errors is an easy task having very little impact on your ego. Starting with grammar corrections can quickly build up your confidence that you are making good progress on your revision.

2. Save the line-by-line suggestions for later.

The reason you want to do this is that you could be wasting a tremendous amount of time and effort on specifics that would have otherwise been resolved through other areas of your edit. It is tempting to go through them one by one from the start, but that would be an unwise approach.

3. Tackle the general comments.

These are the most difficult to deal with and pack the hardest punch to your ego. I’m talking about general comments like the dialogue was hollow, the characters were unrealistic, the plot wasn’t engaging. Those examples may be a bit over-the-top, but you get my point. With the more critical general comments in mind, start at the beginning and read through your entire manuscript making changes along the way. These changes are the reason you want to wait for the line-by-line suggestions; once you’ve finished this step, many of your editor’s line-by-line suggestions will no longer be applicable.

4. Stay true to your story.

Remember that this is your story, not your editor’s. Perhaps they really didn’t like a particular character or scene and think you should remove it entirely. If that works without damaging the integrity of your intentions, then do it. If the character or scene is critical to your story, then don’t. If that’s the case, then ask yourself what made your editor feel that way and do what you can to correct it without compromising your intentions.

5. Wrap it up with the line-by-line suggestions.

At this point, all of the major issues have been resolved. Now, it is time to go back through your manuscript line-by-line to see if any of your editor’s individual suggestions are still applicable. If they are, correct them on the spot. If they’re not, move on to the next one.

Editing is a painful process, but it doesn’t have to be a debilitating one. As overwhelmed as you may feel when you first see your editor’s notes, you’ll feel elated once you have successfully addressed them all.

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