The Editing Process: The First Read

It’s CampNaNoWriMo! And during this camp session I am working on editing one of my Middle Grade novels, so today, and in the coming weeks I will be talking about the steps I will be using to go through the editing process for this novel.

To start the editing process, as so many will tell you, it is important to have some distance from your novel. You have to be in a place where your story is not so familiar to you that you will gloss over sections or ideas without a critical eye. The writing brain and editing brain are different, and the editor brain works best when it has some distance from the novel you wrote, giving you an opportunity to look at your story with less bias and thus be able to pull out the good from the first draft and get rid of the bad.

Once you’ve been away from your novel for a bit, it can be difficult to start at chapter one and comb through the chapter when the whole of the story is no longer in mind, this is where the first read comes in.

The first read is what it sounds like. It is the first read trough the entire novel you do to start the editing process. For me, that first read is literally a rapid read through of the novel to get a sense for how it reads not to a writer or editor, but a reader. It will be pretty obvious where some things do not work, where the tone shifts too quickly, where the pacing is off, where the characters are inconsistent, and where the world gets lost, among other problems.

Tempted though you may be, try not to write anything down during the first read. Just immerse yourself in the story, feel the world you’ve created, and live the story as you created it. It can be hard to read what you’ve written, but unless you subject yourself to reading that first draft in all its first draft glory, you won’t have a strong sense of all that ought to happen during the revision and editing processes.

While you’re reading it might be discouraging to see errors as small as spelling mistakes or places where you used the wrong “there”, or mistakes as large creating a plot-hole that the whole conflict hinges on, but do not despair. You are reading a first draft. First drafts are notoriously messy. They are not polished works; they are chicken scratchings with a vague story in mind.

But what often happens is our writer brain tells us the first draft is better than it is, and if we believe her, we might miss some of the obvious mistakes that the editor brain is itching to fix. In order to get a clear picture of the manuscript you have to work with, you must remove those writer-coloured glasses to see your first draft as it is—as it would be to readers to truly understand the reality of a first draft and the beauty of the process ahead.

The first read is just the beginning of the editing process, but it is an essential first step into the world of revision.

Do you begin your editing process with a first read? Do you have another method? How do you begin the editing process?

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2 thoughts on “The Editing Process: The First Read

  1. Trying to read that first draft (after a cool off period) with reader eyes is a very good idea. Not the writer or the edit in the seat during that read through. I’m going to see how it works for my short pieces, eg articles and blog posts.

    – Read it as a new reader to your piece
    – Read it as the writer
    – Read it as an editor

    Excellent steps, Chiante.

    Liked by 1 person

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