Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street. Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her authorwebsite.
—an article, a short story, a novel—only to reread their work and feel like it's an enormous mess.
When I get the chance to talk to young writers, I often hear something like, "The first book I wrote is such a mess because I didn't know what I was doing. I still like the story, but I'm just not sure it's even worth editing."
When you first start writing, you are growing and changing so rapidly that your skill level by the end of writing a novel is often much different than it was when you started. Especially if this is one of the first times you've pushed yourself to write an entire book, or if it's taken several years to complete it.
So do you have some messy completed drafts sitting on your hard drive that you've been afraid to touch? If so, here are some thoughts from my experience that I hope can help you:
Not every first draft is worth editing.
In about thirty seconds, I can think of nine completed manuscripts sitting on my hard drive unedited. Some of them are books I wrote in my late teens that just didn't work the way I thought they would, and I've lost my interest in the story. But three of them were written in the last few years. Several of them I still love.
But like you, the writing time I have is very limited. Right now I've made the choice to pursue YA historical fiction, so using my writing time to edit the YA contemporary novel that I inexplicably love despite it hardly having a plot just doesn't make sense for me right now.
Only you can answer if your book is worth the time investment that edits requires.
"Not Now" isn't the same as "Not ever."
But deciding that now isn't the time you want to work on edits doesn't mean you never will. I once archived a completed second draft of Me, Just Different, swearing the story was broken beyond repair, and I was moving on. But Skylar and Connor wouldn't leave me alone, and several months later I got the broken manuscript back out. Sometimes time away is all we need to renew our enthusiasm for a story.
Editing is a different skill than writing.
You've worked hard to learn how to write an entire first draft. You've studied elements of story structure, developed your characters' backstories, rewritten your opening scene countless times, and invested months, maybe years, into producing a completed draft.
Shouldn't editing be a natural extension of what you've learned so far?
Go Teen Writers: How To Turn Your First Draft Into A Finished Book.)
I know edits can feel intimidating, and that a new, shiny book idea often sounds like a lot more fun. (And there's nothing wrong with chasing the fun. I encourage it!) But like the classic Michael Crichton quote goes, "Books aren't written, they're rewritten." Eventually, if you want your story to read like a book, you'll have to hone your editing skills.
Only take the plunge on edits when you feel the time is right.
Only now you don't really feel like shining her up. If your first drafts are anything like my first drafts, there are different tenses, hardly any description, flat characters, and loads of other issues that you don't know yet how to fix. And there's this new story idea that you think could be even better...
But what about the people who have supported you? I know it's uncomfortable to say, "Yeah, I invested a lot of time in writing that draft. I got up early to work on it, and when you wanted to hang out with me, I sometimes said, 'I can't because I want to write.' But now I'm not going to edit it. I'm just going to put it away."
If you're not a writer, this can be a difficult thing to understand. All that work, and now you're just going to put it away? But editing is hard enough when you feel excited about the book, and I've yet to see success when I unenthusiastically edit. Unless you've signed a contract and you're on a deadline, I recommend waiting to edit until you feel ready.
"I want to edit my book, but how do I even start?"Maybe you really want to edit your book, and you're willing to put in the work, but you just don't know how to fix it. Here are some links that I hope will help you along your way:
The Go Teen Writers Book: Jill and I poured our heart and soul into this thing. We talk about big picture editing stuff, drill down into those smaller issues that crop up, and then have loads of resources and worksheets in the end.
Editing for the first time? 5 Thoughts To Help You Make Sense of It.
Editing In Layers series:
Have you edited a book before? Drop a line of encouragement for those who are new to it, and maybe share a tip or two. If you haven't edited before and have questions, leave them in the comments for us!