As writers, we are often told to set aside our manuscripts for a while after working on them tirelessly for months on end. I consider this to be a great piece of advice because it puts space between you and the work, and gives you a clearer mind when thinking about the project. In that time, however, you can forget the finer points of what you were working on. When you revisit your manuscript, and are preparing to edit it, it might be a good idea to take some notes.
If you’re still in school, then you’ll know that notes help you study up for exams. Think of your second draft as an exam of sorts and your first draft as a type of lecture notes. It’s your job to comb that first draft and add your own notations. Anything that will tip you off to things that need changing or improving as you work on that second draft should be included in your notes.
Chuck Wendig has something to say about this, as usual. In his post, 25 Steps to Edit the Unmerciful Suck Out of Your Story, he mentioned notes as an important tool. In step 5, he says, “Don’t only use the time to highlight stuff that doesn’t work. Highlight the things that do work, as well — stuff that, to you, counts as components of the story that do what they were designed to do. And okay, fine, if you want to drop the emotionless edit-bot motif for a second, feel free to doodle little happy faces or gold stars or tentacled elder gods giving you a thumbs-up (er, tentacles-up) in the margins to indicate: I’m making a note here — “HUGE SUCCESS.”
Chuck’s advice is great because it encourages you to not only take note of what you need to change, but also what doesn’t need to change at all. Sure, you may think of your first draft as incredibly rough and even not very good, but there are certainly some gems in there that you’ll want to keep. Take note of those good things and, as Chuck says here, give yourself a smiley face now and then so you feel better about yourself as you rip into your story.
Notes don’t have to be too intrusive, but I do think they’re important. As I’ve begun editing my latest project, I’ve been adding in notes using the “comments” feature on Google Docs just to remind myself what needs to be fixes as I re-write. I would suggest familiarizing yourself with the comments feature in Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or whichever writing software you prefer. Happy note-taking!
— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan