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  • Writer's pictureKait

3 Lessons I Learned while Editing my Novel

I am thrilled to finally say that I've made it through this edit of LFB, my dystopian novel. This draft started so strong. Man, I was gonna finish it on time and everything. 

And then.

Act 3 hit.

I struggled so hard with the end of this story. I actually went through and did two edit passes on Act 3, and I still feel like it's more rough than the rest. One of these days, I'm going to write a book and know the end before I get there.

According to my planner, I was supposed to be done with this and halfway through the next draft by now, but here I am. I'm happy to be done, though, and proud of the draft I wound up with. Look how many words I cut! 

Photo of a notebook page listing milestones for my LFB project. "Nanowrimo 2021 50K; Zero draft complete at 86K 2/7/22; 1st draft complete at 143K 9/9/23; 2nd draft complete at 133K 5/23/24"
And it's still way too long!

What I learned from the second draft edit

Every time I finish a story, I learn something. Sometimes it's related to the craft of storytelling itself, sometimes it's more about process. This draft was a lot about the process. Here are some of the lessons I learned. I hope they're helpful to other writers. Or at least me again in the future. 😆

Lesson One: Beta Readers

This draft, I tried a different way to get beta feedback, and I don't think I'll be doing this again. I sent out my draft to betas as I was working on it. So I finished Act 1, sent out Act 1. I meant to keep working on Act 2 while they read Act 1, but I couldn't. I waited for that feedback, and that slowed me down. 

The feedback I got was good, useful critique. It made me excited to rush back to the start of the story and fix all that stuff before moving on. Thankfully I resisted that urge, or I'd probably still be working on Act 1 purgatory. After I moved on to Act 2, sent that out, and then got that feedback, again, I wanted to rush back to the beginning. Repeat through to the end. Now I've got this mountain of feedback that I received, at this point, three months ago. I've lost that feeling of excitement. I've lost the context of those conversations I had with my readers. I took plenty of notes, but I have a feeling that I'll be reaching back out to my readers and asking "do you remember what we talked about changing in that chapter??" still. 

Lesson: Get feedback only when you're ready to start the next edit.

Lesson Two: Deadlines

The first part of this edit, I set up my own deadlines as a motivational tool. In the past, this hasn't worked for me. I just blew past them--almost out of spite--because I was the only one who knew about the dates anyways. Who was I to tell me what to do??

This draft, I set those deadline dates with my husband. He knew when each chunk of the story was "due," and he asked me about my progress a few times a week. Something clicked in my head and not only did I "turn in" my draft sections on time, but early. 

And then. 

Act 3. 

I didn't set a deadline for act 3 because I was already feeling that acidic worry of not knowing what to do with the damn ending. I didn't have a feel for how long it would take, because I didn't have a solid plan of how I was going to change it. I really wish I had still set something, because if you don't decide how long a project will take, the answer is that it will take an infinite amount of time.

Lesson: External deadlines are infinitely more powerful than internal ones.

Lesson Three: Breaks

A pattern that keeps repeating for my long-term projects is that I work with fervor and enthusiasm for about two months on one story. By the end of that two months, my interest and motivation for that story starts to wane. I think ideally, that would be a great point to take a purposeful break for a week. I should refill my creative well by watching a ton of movies, reading a ton of books, learning something, and not thinking about my story. 

Instead, what happens is that I think, "I'm so close to the end, I should just push on and finish. Then I can take a good break." Well, then that last 25% of the project takes as long as the first 75% because I'm just dragging at every step. I'm not making any progress, but I'm spending plenty of energy worrying about the story. I can't think creatively. I can't solve problems. I get demotivated, start to feel like I'm not good enough to finish the story, I'm wasting my time even writing the thing, yadda yadda. 

I am going to take a break now that draft 2 is done, and not work on this story at all for at least a week. I'm hoping that after that week, I feel up to diving back in for draft 3.

Lesson: Take a short break after about two months. Even if you're almost done. Because if you don't take a short break, the break you take will be looooong, but not on purpose.

I hope this has been helpful to someone out there. Please share your advice for getting through edits in the comments below! 


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