In my last post, I discussed the importance of correct English. It's a subject close to my heart, and no piece of writing is ready for publication until it has been gone over thoroughly with this in mind. Correcting any grammatical stumbles, refining clunky sentence structures and so on can make the difference between a piece of polished prose that's a pleasure to the eye and mind, and something that isn't fit for pigs.
Edit Story First, not Language
But it's not enough, and in fact, it isn't even the first thing you should do. If you're philosophically inclined, you might say that this step is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for publication readiness. Before you clean, press and furbish up the language in which you have clothed your story, you must address the condition of the story itself. Just as you take your bath BEFORE you deck yourself out in your finery. And just as the order in which you do those things is important, so too is the order in which you edit. If you tackle the detail side first, it's easy to be tempted to consider the process complete, and then you can end up with a truly dreadful book. An example of this is Algernon Blackwood's A Prisoner in Fairyland. The writing is so beautiful it could bring tears to the eyes of a stone angel, but the story is crap, and worse, it's boring crap. It's better to have a really good story with some dodgy English - readers may forgive you for using 'lay' instransitively, but they will not forgive you for boring them.
When you edit your story, you are looking at its bones and structure. Are there gaping holes in your plot development? If it's a mystery of any kind, are the clues distributed fairly and at the required degree of difficulty? Have you foreshadowed things you needed to foreshadow? Do you have subplots that fail to be resolved? Are there characters on whom you focus, who just disappear? Does the story move smoothly from its beginning to its resolution? Is the resolution full and satisfactory?
It's Not Easy
Doing all this stuff is hard, and it doesn't come naturally. When you write, your mind is full of background. 'We know all that,' you may say. But your reader doesn't know it unless you have told him. This is one reason I recommend having a 'rotdown' phase, where you put your story away - right away - and you don't look at it or even think about it for some time. Ideally you are working on something else during that time. Rotdown allows you to gain as much emotional distance as you can from your work, so that you come to editing with the greatest degree of objectivity of which you're capable. Let's face it, when we write 'the end' on a first draft, we all imagine it's perfect, unless the carping voice of experience reminds us otherwise.
How To Do It
A detailed exposition of how to do your story edit is beyond the scope of this article. In fact, it's beyond the scope of considering all at once. Editing is a learned skill, and it's difficult and painful to do. However, I can point you to some help. The Writing Academy's short course, Macro Editing: Developmental editing for novelists, teaches you how to edit your story in a series of easy-to-understand steps, with practical exercises to reinforce each lesson. It's a brilliant resource for the new or emerging writer. The lessons are broken up into small steps that can be fitted into a busy life, and the process is explained in clear, easy-to-understand language, without being oversimplified.
A Wise Investment
I often hear newish writers complaining about the cost of services, and saying they can't afford to spend money on their writing careers until the books are paying. But the same people will spend money on fancy software tools, such as Scrivener or Grammarly. I would suggest to you that the truly wise investment is the one you make in yourself. Learning a skill is, at the end of the day, of far greater worth than buying any product. Once you have that skill, you have it for life. At the time of writing, Macro Editing is available for $45, or three easy instalments of $17. For less than the cost of a good haircut, it's a wise investment in your future as a writer.