So you finished a story. Whether it be a novel, a short story, or some 10,000 word rambling you don’t know what to call. Congratulations! You finished. That’s great. That’s the first step.
Now, you have to take a step back and look at it. You go and fix all those your/you’re confusion or when you accidentally made your character pray to “Gid”. All those little errors that you know are hiding in there from your mad dash at writing.
You’re done now, right? All grammar errors are fixed and all typos have been abolished. You’ve finished your story! It’s all done.
WRONG. BAD YOU, IF YOU AGREED WITH ME.
There is more to a story than grammar. What if all of your sentences are too short? What if ALL your verbs have adverbs riding on their tails? What if you only say “Said” four times, and the rest of the time it was “Yelled,” “Decided,” “Expressed,” “Hissed,” “Gulped,” or “Addressed”? What if your chapters are wildly uneven or your “novel” is only 30,000 words? Or it’s a romance at 300,000?
Still, that’s just surface things. Those are writing elements that you can improve as you grow as a writer. That’s still not focusing on the content of your story.
What if your character starts loving their love interest for no reason? What if by giving your MC’s mom “cool”, you actually made them annoying as fuck? What if your plot is weak, or your character motivations just aren’t there? What if all of your characters are flat generic bores with no differences between them? What if there’s nothing realistic about your story, like a girl from a trailer park owning a brand new BMW?
Some people forget that looking at this is a part of revising your work. The problem is, you might not see it in your own story. I had to reread my novel Kiss of The Fey at least four times before realizing that my MC never mentioned her family after she was taken away from them. The plot I had set up was convoluted as fuck (I actually wrote that in the margin while revising) and it took me days to think or something that would be simpler to replace it. I cut characters and cut scenes, even scenes that had really good lines in them. (I know how it feels to write a sentence that comes out flawlessly, but if it doesn’t fit you have to take it out.) My characters started liking each other too quickly and the old warlock acted too much like a typical old warlock.
I knew I had to change a lot, and I know I’m still not done. I’m a critical reader, even on my own work. Until I can get someone to tear it apart, I know it won’t be as good as it can be. I urge everyone to find a critical reader of their own. Don’t ask for a reader to fix your spelling or grammar, and don’t ask them to help with sentence structure. Ask them to dig deep and find the structural issues in your story. John Green agrees that an editor’s job is not to correct grammar, but to help your story make sense as a whole. I know that those kinds of changes are the painful ones, like when someone tells you your main character is boring or that the plot was stupid and didn’t make sense.
Some people can do this on their own, but many become too attached to what they’ve already written and refuse to rid their story of what shouldn’t be there. Either way, you need to remember why you write. If you write for yourself, don’t bother changing anything. It doesn’t matter. If writing is what pleases you, just keep writing. However, if you plan to have your story available to a wider audience, you need to EDIT. Edit that baby so hard that it’s almost unrecognizable in the end. Don’t just change a sentence here and there, change entire scenes, entire subplots.
Listen to what others say to make your story the best it can be. If ten people say “Oh, that’s great” but one person says “They fell in love too fast” you need to examine to see if that second person is true. You don’t have to try to change your work to please everyone, but I know that some readers just don’t care about quality as much as others. I’ve had people tell me I should get truly shitty writing published. It’s the critical readers you need, whether they’re right or not, to help improve your writing.
So go forth, write, but remember the importance of editing.