Being a teacher of writing, who comes into daily contact with less than stellar writers, the single most important thing I teach them is that if they can do a solid outline-thought process, they can blow their essays out of the water. Editing does not begin after you finish writing. It begins before you put your pen on the paper.
I know that sounds a bit odd. But it's true. Even if you are a self-proclaimed pantster (pantser)... meaning you don't believe in plotting out ahead, I bet that you do. Plot. A lot. Just because you have nothing written down does not mean you aren't plotting. How many times do you think about, write and rewrite...and all inside your head? And I can absolutely guarantee -- even if your story NEVER crosses your mind -- your subconscious has done a whole TON of plotting and thinking without your permission. Yes, your fabulous brain plots -- and EDITS -- whether you want it to or not.
For the plotters out there, yeah, you KNOW about editing while writing because everything is planned to the nth degree. You excel at sometimes thinking yourself into corners where not much actual writing gets done because your brain is so busy thinking seven steps ahead...and then rewriting every step. Again. And now there's ten steps. Once more, your incredible brain is doing things you may not want it to do, because the thing is truly an unruly beast, who does not like obeying your rules. OK, who are we kidding, it doesn't like obeying anyone's rules.
Editing begins before you start writing...paring ideas, discarding, forming a plot...all editing.
For the past six months, I've been working on a self-editing book, there is so much information out there that it may take a while to get all my thoughts into place, but when it comes to editing for authors of fiction, things are different from what I tell my students. I have friends on both side of the plotting issue, but I compare to writing without any kind of outline to driving into a foreign city without a map. Yes, you can get around by asking questions and reading signs, but how much faster would you get to your destination if you had at least a map of the major roads you needed to travel?
From Day One in writing any kind of fiction, you should, at the very least, have an idea of the direction you're heading in. There are basic questions you should know beforehand. Like, YA, NA, paranormal, historical, erotica? Sitting down to write and not knowing what genre you're even aiming for has "disaster of epic proportions" written all over it. Also, super sex-filled vs. hand holding and preteen kissing. Once again, how much sex and description you are going to have should NOT be something that just...happens. And, your main characters? Yeah, you need to at least have a solid idea about who they are. (Don't worry about secondary characters, they tend to butt in when they want to anyway.) Along with genre, sub-genre's need to be pinned down too. Are you going to add some mystery to this YA? Some suspense to this erotica? A thriller or a push into horror for your paranormal? Are you going to write your world's rules to follow what's already been set, or are you world building -- then what basics go and what stay? (Do your vampires sparkle?)
That, my fellow authors, is not plotting. It's being smart.
An outline does NOT have to be the elongated, warped and heavily written in images that circle Facebook and blogs. An outline is just that. Imagine a map...those pesky invisible state lines are outlines of something only imagined to be there. They aren't really real -- no, seriously, there isn't a physical line in the sand between Texas and New Mexico -- yet that "assumed" border denotes very set and very specific rules on both sides of that line.
A delineation of what goes inside your hypothetical lines (your book) and what stays on the other side (future books, or ideas). THAT is an basic outline. All authors need a basic outline just as much as my students need a basic outline -- even if only a list of major ideas.
Whatever your outline is, I promise it will change, whether or not you want it to. I tend to have a more than basic outline (but nothing like JK Rowling's) and my characters ALWAYS hijack my story. So I've learned to let them take off. That being said, however, I have a list of scenes that are Absolutes, and regardless of what my characters want or do, that list will be in the book. Maybe not in the order I imagined, or the setting I had planned, and sometimes the scene isn't even between the characters I planned on...but those scenes are Not Options. No matter how much my characters kick and scream about it.
And that is editing. And it starts before you write one word.