Editing: Why the Big Picture Must Come First

I admit, the first time I sat down with a completed manuscript to edit it, I was overwhelmed.  I procrastinated for days.  It was a sad sight to see.

Editing is hard.  You’ve got a first draft, a complete manuscript, and now you have to refine it, to shape it into the story you want it to be instead of the story it ended up.  It’s enough to make people run for the hills screaming.

On some level, you want to do the easy parts first.  So you go through and read the story, correcting typos and grammar and the fact that you changed Character X’s name five times in the first three chapter.

Resist this urge.

Line-editing makes you feel like you’re getting somewhere, but you’re not.  What’s worse is, when you do finally get up the nerve to do the hard part, some of what you fixed won’t survive being cut.

So always do the big picture first.

Big picture items include: overarching plot, characters arcs, subplots, world-building, themes, and other things of that nature.  Things that effect the entire story.  What good is it if you fix all mentions of a character’s name if it turns out that character isn’t needed?  What good does it do you to fix your commas if your climax makes no logical sense?  What good does it do to be spelling-error free when your readers are fed up with your world by chapter four?

Yes, these are the hard parts, but until you work on them, you can’t tease your story into its final form.

And once you get the big picture things done, everything else will fall into place.  Believe me, there is no greater feeling than looking back on a productive session of editing and knowing that you actually accomplished something.

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