Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.
For the last few weeks, I've been pressing toward a destination that I really want to reach: Being done with major edits on my YA historical romantic suspense book.
I've been with this book for over a year now. I finished my first draft back in April 2014, and despite only taking a few weeks off before I started edits, I'm still editing.
Why is that?
One reason is that I taught myself two new genres with this book (historical and mystery). I was learning as I wrote my first draft, and it showed.
Another is that we've had a lot of "life stuff" going on around here. It seems hardly a week goes by that I'm not dragging Connor to a doctor's appointment or volunteering in McKenna's class or doing something else with what is normally my work time.
Also, this book is longer than anything I've written before. It was a 67,000 word first draft, and it's currently sitting at 93,000 words.
Plus along the way, there were breaks when I waited on others to read and provide feedback.
But here's the big reason: When you're doing edits the right way, it's a slow, tedious job.
1. Give yourself a deadline.
Many of us work best when we have a goal of when we want to be done. When I set my deadline, I try to figure out how long I think it'll take me, and then I build in some extra time.
My goal was to be done with edits by last Saturday. As the 28th loomed closer, I could tell I wasn't going to finish in time unless I worked crazy hours. I decided the cost of the crazy hours wasn't worth it to me, and that I would finish this week instead.
If it's a publisher's deadline, I don't have that luxury, but fortunately this time I do.
2. Set small goals.
After you've determined when you want to be done by, try to figure out a daily or weekly goal. I've learned that I can only get through two to three chapters each work day that I have, so then I was able to set myself a goal of finishing by Friday.
It's fine to use a goal to push yourself a little harder, but it's also has to be something that you can reasonably do. The idea is to encourage yourself through edits by being able to cross off small tasks, so you don't want to set yourself up for failure by making your small tasks insurmountable.
3. Reward yourself when you meet your daily goals.
With the first draft, the only reward I need is seeing the word count climb as the day goes on. But editing? You might work all day and end up with negative words, despite writing an entire new scene. I often build rewards into my edit schedule to keep myself motivated. Some examples of rewards that have worked for me are:
- When I finish this page, I get 5 minutes on Pinterest.
- After this chapter, I get a cookie.
- If I meet my goal for the day, I can watch The Daily Show tonight.
4. Try to find someone who will encourage you along the way.
Last Thursday, I was getting downright mad at myself. I had planned to have my book done and sent to Jill by Saturday, and it wasn't going to happen. I complained to my husband about this, and he reminded me that we have quite a bit going on in our lives right now. Jill told me the same thing.
I realized that I had done everything I could—other than rush through the job—to try and meet the deadline I had set for myself. I had been working hard and using my time wisely. I had done my best, and I needed an extra week to finish. That's okay.
If you can't find someone who can encourage you, try to find something. Maybe you could design a possible cover for the book to hang up by your work space. Or write yourself a book love list, which is just a list of things you inexplicably love about your book. For my Ellie Sweet books, my list looked something like this:
- A heroine with glasses
- A boy with a Jeep
- Fountain Cokes with ice
- Old style photography classes
5. Try to not overthink the job.
My brother-in-law was in town last week and asked how the book was coming along. I shared that edits were going much slower than I had hoped. And then my seven-year-old daughter said something that really struck me as brilliant. "When I'm writing a story," she said, "after I finish a sentence, I read it to be sure it makes sense."
And that's what edits are. Getting the book to where it makes sense to others—with sentence structure, character motivations, word choices, plot twists, etc.—one sentence at a time.
It can be very overwhelming to think of everything that must be fixed before you're officially done, but it's not so overwhelming if your only job is to make sure this one sentence makes sense. And then the next sentence. And so on.
Remember, editing is a skill. Just like you had to learn to write a complete first draft, you'll have to learn how to edit an entire book. You'll get better and faster, but in my experience, it's always a long, messy process.
I'm hoping to finally, finally, finally finish up my edits this week. Do you have writing goals this week? Consider sharing below and then checking in later to let us know how the week went.