1. You aren’t making it disappear forever
Create a “cut file” for everything you remove from your work-in-progress, knowing you can use it in a) another book b) a short story c) the same book, should it prove relevant later on.
2. Serve that plot/kill those darlings
Remember, we’re all storytellers, thus the most important goal is to tell a good story. That means plot. Everything you write should ultimately fuel the plot. If you have a funny, brilliant, beautifully written scene, but it doesn’t service character development/action that is relevant to the story, put it in that cut file.
3. Eliminate dialog that’s purely expositional
If all you’re getting out of a dialogue scene is cold, hard facts, that scene needs to be rewritten. Dialogue scenes should always further emotional relationships, otherwise they read as stiff, expositional, unnatural. In writing any dialogue scene, figure out first how the POV character feels about the other character (Terror? Physical attraction? Mild annoyance?). There is no wrong answer, but there must be some feeling there, and it should be represented in the scene, even if the main purpose is gathering and relaying information. If there is no emotion at all, eliminate the dialogue scene altogether and paraphrase.
4. Pay attention to pacing
You may not know whether or not your pacing works until you’re done with your first draft. That’s fine. Read through with a careful eye as to what slows things down or speeds things up too much and cut/rewrite.
5. Keep in character
You may come up with a brilliant line of dialogue or a shocking action scene. But it won’t work if it’s something your character would never do. Read through your first draft with a thorough knowledge of your characters and if you find yourself saying, “She would never say/do/feel that way…” even if it’s a great scene, it’s “cut file time.” You might even find yourself giving that bit of business to another character.
6. Get a second opinion
Whether it’s a trusted friend, spouse or professional editor, get a “beta reader” to read a draft before you send your manuscript into the world. A good beta reader can catch things you may not notice, objectively tell you how they felt while reading your book, letting you know what worked, what didn’t and what proved confusing. Ideally that beta reader should get the whole draft to read and be someone who is a) knowledgeable about what you are trying to write i.e., a fan of the genre b) supportive of you and c) able to be objective/tell it to you straight.
7. Don’t get a fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth…
When it comes to beta readers, too many cooks can truly spoil the pot (or water down a plot). While writing groups are terrific, you will find that even in the best groups, some will “get you” better than others. Listen to those people. You can’t please everyone (go to Amazon, look up your favorite book and check out all the one-star reviews if you don’t believe me.) Trying to do so will often water down your narrative voice and dilute suspense by over-explaining things.
8. Looks count
It’s great to tell a good story, but it should look clean and professional as well. Before you send out your manuscript, give it the once-over for proper spelling, grammar, punctuation, consistency. Typos can’t be avoided, but a lot of them can be an instant turn-off, and tells prospective buyers that you just don’t care. Make sure it’s double spaced and in a legible font as well. (I prefer Times New Roman 12).
9. Freshen up your eyes
After you finish what you think is your final draft, take a week off where you don’t send it out anywhere, but don’t look at it. Then, PRINT OUT a copy and give it one more read-through. You will find yourself reading with a fresh, new perspective – and you may find yourself catching things you never noticed before.
10. It will never be perfect
Rewriting is great, overwriting is not. When you have completed a final draft, you should feel like you’ve done the best you can with it – but know that once you get an agent and/or editor, you will be rewriting again…. And no doubt finding room for improvement. Write it well, but don’t write it to death – and try and have a little fun!