Editing for writers when to go back to the start header

Editing for writers: when to go back to the start

This week I completed a major milestone with my latest book, False Sanctuary.  After a seemingly never ending second edit, I’ve now reached a place where I’m looking for beta readers! I was so close to finishing the story on a commute on Friday morning that I dashed to a coffee shop near to my work and powered through the rest of the final chapter. I know that doesn’t really line up with last week’s post -why slower writers edit better – but I think that as I was on a roll, it was better to keep the momentum up.

A well with start written on it

After having Friday evening with a glass of whiskey and a mini celebration, I thought I’d write a post on what I’ve learned throughout the process of editing this particular draft. Then I realised that, actually, I’d learned more than one thing while going through the process, so it was a good idea to write a blog post on each of them. That way I could pre-load most of my November posts and clear my writing calendar for NanoWriMo, if I wanted to…

So what’s the first thing I learned? Sometimes you just have to start again. A draft doesn’t have to reach the end.

Why? The big change

About halfway through the previous draft of the book, I changed something fairly drastic (no spoilers). That meant that I would have to go back and change the beginning of the book to make sure everything made sense. I had three options:

  • I could go back to the beginning and redraft everything
  • I could ignore the issue at the beginning and address it after I’d finished this draft
  • I could add in a sentence or two to fix everything and then carry on

I was enjoying the story, and the change meant that everything just tied together a lot more. However, there was always a chance that I’d forget about my genius idea, or I’d miss a line or two because something wasn’t fresh in my mind, and the whole book wouldn’t make sense (at least, less sense than they usually do).

What I did

So I decided to stop about two thirds of the way through the draft and start again. It was a difficult thing to do, because I’m a firm believer that you need to finish what you start. But going back started to pay dividends almost immediately.

The benefits of going back

With my big change fresh in my mind, I pulled together a list of things that I remembered from earlier in the book that I’d need to change. That allowed me to keep an eye out for triggers and foreshadowing events to make sure that, where needed, I was able to change things to make sure the reader didn’t get confused.

A hopsotch sqaure
Jump again and do it right!

I was also able to make sure that I kept up my own interest in the book. The big change was not only needed from a story point of view, but to keep me interested in the book. You know when you have that moment of doubt when you think the story is going to suck and nothing that you can do will make it better? That was me before the Big Change. After it, I was reinvigorated by all the new ideas that bounced around inside my head. I kept going, and this time when I reached the part that I was struggling on before – I smashed through it!

So, if you’ve made a Big Change halfway through your book, don’t worry about finishing that draft. If your mind keeps taking you back to the beginning, there’s a reason. Listen to it – and head back!

The images on this page are from Unsplash and I edited the header with Canva.

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