Painting happens in layers. A painter will lay the bare bones of an image first--maybe some base lines with only a few colors. Then she'll add another layer that includes depth and a few more images. Then another layer for texture and even more images. You get the idea. If not, go watch this time-lapse Bob Ross video. Bob Ross is the bomb.
Editing involves a similar process, especially for a large work like a novel. You'll start with your rough draft, but that draft is just the bare bones. It's terrible. (Don't worry--all first drafts are terrible.) Don't start your edit by trying to fix every single thing you can think of on each consecutive page! There are bigger things to consider. Structure! Plot holes! Perspective! World building! Find the biggest chunks of terribleness you can and bite them off one at a time. You will probably find that you have a lot more content to add, because--just like a painting--that first layer will look kind of empty by itself. So add your next layer.
Then give it a second read-through. Make a list of all that needs improving, and pick ONE thing off of that list. Go through the whole draft to add and/or edit content with that in mind. Does your main character's objective need to be more clear? Okay, read the whole thing and just focus on adjusting their perspective accordingly. Then, pick something else on the list and do it all again. Then again. And again.
But no! you cry, then I have to read it like twenty times! Ugh! So much reading! Yep. It's a lot of reading. Trust me, it will be way more effective than trying to do it all at once. Can you remember each of those twenty things, keep them all at the forefront of your mind, and notice every spot they occur, all while immersed in your story? I know I can't. Something is bound to slip through the cracks, and you'll end up with a mess.
Treating your editing process this way will lend a method to your madness. You'll be able to see your progress, too, in measurable and exciting (albeit slow) chunks. Editing is a long process, but trying to take a shortcut will not help your work in the long run. This is where the business and the discipline of writing comes in. You're a writer, right? That means you're an editor, too. Keep at it.
What are your secrets to keeping focused while editing? Share them in the comments, and I'll compile them with my own in a follow-up post next week!