How to Get Out of a Hole When Editing Your Book

What follows below is how I've tackled my work. Mileage may vary. Take what works for you and leave the rest.

We all have this happen. After finishing a book, there is a huge burst of energy. A little while later, there is a huge drop off as you think about edits.

What we all like to do (and what feels natural) is to start another book. Ideas seem to fire as you get towards the end of a first draft. Tasty morsels with all kinds of delicious plot tropes.  All you can think about is getting to the new story.

When I get to the end of one book, I want to use the energy to its best value add.  So, I write the next book. Nothing wrong with doing the easy thing. I fast draft, so if I am cooking, I can bang out 60k in a couple of months. It’s rough, but the bones of a story are on paper… probably.

But back to your first book. Depending on how long you take to draft, you may get more goody out of plotting the next book for 30 days. What you won't do is read your book. Put it down.

Why? Because I am a huge fan of Stephen King’s “On Writing.” Best advice I have ever heard is to put your book in a drawer when you finish. Don’t read it yet. Let it gather dust. Come back to it later.  This approach will allow you to read your first draft with a clean eye.

Let’s say you left it in a drawer for 6 weeks to 2 months. Now you pull it out and plunk down the best book ever onto your desk.  As you read your mood twists to oh my gods why did I think I was a writer. Slow down. Take a cleansing breath or five. You’ve got this.

I am a fan of printing a hard copy. There is something visceral about starting the edit process with a pencil/pen and paper. I leave room for notes in the margins. I get out a pack of index cards and go through the monster in front of me.

On the index cards, I put down the original order of scenes. I try an identify the flow of the story in its current form. I took a workshop with Alexandra Sokoloff and loved the way she used a tri fold board. I will tape scenes onto my board and see if the things work.
Without fail, you will find plot holes. More than one. How you use your time to fix them denotes how much work you can produce a year. We all get caught up in plot hole vortexes.My intent is to give you a lifeline.

When you find the hole, walk away. Go do something else. Some writers feel every thing you do as an author has to be work work work, and it needs to be hard. I don’t. If I find a plot hole, I get up and leave the manuscript. I’ll go check on the dogs, or maybe watch an episode of a tv show.

After an hour I’ll come back and sit. I set a timer. Often it’s only 60 minutes. I’ll dig in to what I know about my story from beginning to end. Is there a scene I can move around that will fill the hole? Or do I need a new scene? What do I think should be here that isn’t? Those index cards come in real handy. I’ll move them around. I might find a scene I can delete. Maybe I can do… The timer goes off.

I’ve done as much work as I can focused on one hole. Now I need to dig deeper. I will read the next few scenes with an eye to filling the hole and making a better story.  Then rinse and repeat the process until you’ve made it all the way to the last page.

By the time it’s over,  I (and you) will wonder why I ever thought I could write. The story is a smoking pile of poo. Nobody will want to read it.

I take at least a day or two to let the first read thru percolate in my brain. I will write anything else. Blog posts, articles for a newsletter, long diatribes to my bestie about how much this writing thing is not going to work out.

Then the real fun starts. Move your board and index cards to a place where you can see them and open your masterpiece up in whatever software you use to write. I am a fan of having different drafts saved. Quirky, but sometimes I delete a scene and realize I need to go back and resurrect it. Having a first draft saved lets me do that with ease. Otherwise I become a stressball.

The end result you want is a book polished enough to be read and enjoyed. No matter your publishing path, you need to have finished works ready to go. Don't make the mistake of writing a first draft, hitting spell check and thinking you've finished.

From here, it’s all up to you. I do a pass for Goal, Motivation, Conflict with a splash of climax points. Once I have that big ball of stuff nailed, I go back for description, grammar, continuity checks. This pass is filled with minutia. I dislike it. But, I am a professional. I do the work.

About here, I feel like I am an actual writer. I’ve gotten a readable form of my story down on paper. What you do from here is up to you.  It’s in this second pass that I send my work to my critique group. I have another friend who sends a book out to beta readers early on. I know others who draft submission emails. I meant it when I said this is all up to you. You are in the driver’s seat of your work.

At this point, I celebrate. I’ve written a whole book. Like for real. How cool is that? There will still be work to do, but right about here, I buy myself something pretty and eat a decadent dessert. Whatever floats your boat, do it. Life is way too short not to give yourself the pat on the back you deserve. Besides no one else is going to. It’s murder out there in the trenches whether you self publish or submit. Take this moment and hold onto it tight. Pull this memory out when you get a rejection letter, or you find out you left a typo in the draft you uploaded.

Because you are fabulous and deserving of everything wonderful. Remember the plotting you did for the second book. Or maybe you wrote a draft? Time to move onto the next book. Pretty soon, you will feel a cycle and not be as scared about edits or subsequent drafts and edits. There is a bunch of business related stuff that will come up, but for the sake of this article, I've tossed it aside. Being a writer means you never have a day off. There is always something going on.

How do you tackle thorny plot issues in your second or third draft? Write me in the comments below. I would love to hear from you.  If you know of another writer friend who may need a pick me up, send them over to read this article. All we have is each other!