So it’s pretty easy to find tips on areas to edit (and, I won’t lie, I’m a wealth of good knowledge that just won’t shut up, so there’ll be specifics as well)…but not so many on just finding the damned mindset. Here you go!
Step 1. Take a break. Seriously, you need to step back for a little while and let your recent memories of hard work–blood, sweat, and tears–fade. Right after finishing something, especially if it took forever, it’s really hard to start slashing it up. But if you cannot objectively realize that you need to delete things, you’ve got a problem.
Myself, I take about two to three days to get out of the eeee-I-just-wrote-something-it-must-be-awesome! mindset and into the oh-wow-what-was-I-thinking one.
Step 2. Read it all, but not for detail. Skim it, read it like you’d read anything in the genre that you were already familiar with: just don’t get hung up on that one passage or phrase you could have done better, etc. etc. It’s important to understand the overall flow of a piece–i.e., the sections that are strongest and weakest. How are you supposed to edit for content if you don’t know what the big picture looks like? Gestalt principle, dudes.
Step 3. Take another break. Let your thoughts about the piece percolate a little. Go do something else for one whole day!
Step 4. Detail! Go wild. Get intimate with every single word on every single page! And remember that, while prose allows more liberties with word use than poetry (in which, ideally, every word serves a purpose)…you shouldn’t be spending lots of time on something that’s not going to matter later on.
Step 5. See Step 1. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way: if you add a substantial amount of text (and by ‘substantial’ I mean a few lines for a short story or less and more than a paragraph for a novella+), rinse and repeat. It is not good to edit something, only to shove in yet another first draft-rate segment. Either way, though, you should always give it a second look, especially if you want money for it.
Now, there are obviously variations on this. If you’re like me and usually don’t write something in one sitting, you may often find yourself editing yesterday’s draft even as you’re sitting down to write today’s additions. The five steps here are really for completed work (well, work that is in and of itself complete; I suppose you can apply this to single chapters or scenes in longer bodies of work, though I have not tried it that way).
NB: Just started freelance editing for Sonar4 Publications. More on that when stuff gets hardcore, I suppose.