The initial edit is often the most daunting. You’re sitting in front of your computer or notebook, you’ve just poured your heart and soul into a piece of fiction, and now you have to make changes and possible cut things out. *GULP*
It’s not that bad. Trust me. I’ve been there many, many, times.
My initial edit is often done when I type my work because I very often work by hand. I catch typos (are they still typos if you handwrite?), smooth out rough sentences, shuffle the order of paragraphs, and add to descriptions. But I’ve also typed a rough copy and had to do a more traditional initial edit.
Here’s what’s involved in my typical initial edit:
1) Grammar and Spelling: You are responsible for the bulk of this, and this should be one of your first editing tasks. Not only does this make it easier for your later readers/editors, but you can do this without worrying about objectivity.
2) BIG story holes: It will take you less time to read it than it took you to write it so you will catch the big consistency errors, name changes, etc. in the initial read.
3) Sentence structure: You’re looking for anything that doesn’t read right. This could be tenses getting mixed up, word order, etc. If you wince and re-read it, if you can’t figure out what you meant, or if it’s hard to read, change it.
4) Questions for your readers/editors: I often send a story out with one or two questions, such as “Do you think the ending makes sense?” or “did you see the plot twist coming?” etc. This is probably something that you sort of noticed in the initial read through but you won’t yet have the objectivity to deal with it.
The initial edit can take one short session or 4-6 long sessions depending on the length of the piece. I did two short stories and the first third of a novel is less than a week but they were actually on their second major edit (it’s been a while since I’ve had to do an initial edit). It also depends on how tightly you can control your inner editor during the writing process. My editor is persistent so my typos etc. are minimal. For me it’s plot holes, character building, voice consistency, etc. that cause bigger problems, and that means later edits take longer for me.
Once the initial edit is done and corrections are made it’s time to let others see it, or at least let it rest.