I misremembered Stephen King's advice to take six weeks off after writing my draft and instead took six months. King suggested that it was important to put some distance between myself and the words so I wouldn't be too sentimental when it came time to take off my Writer's hat and put on my Editor's battle gear. Honesty and a decided lack of mercy are two critical elements of the editing process, and it's impossible to be sentimental about your work and kill your darlings at the same time.
There were rules for this intentional disengagement. I resolved not to read any of the text, not to attempt any new writing on it, and to try to focus on another project. (If you read my post on iterative story design, I'll tease you with the one-sentence summary of my next project: "Survivors of a zombie apocalypse, developing a cure, discover human consciousness persists within the monsters.") It was agonizing. I had so many ideas about The Total Manageability of Everything, but I had committed to writing down none of them until the proper time had elapsed. A handful of intimate friends were reading the very draft I was sitting on, and I got to share my agony with them by refusing to talk in depth about it.
Then, on February 18th, I took my printed copy of the book out of a box and read it cover to cover, as a reader, fully disengaged from the creative process. Since I was a kid, I have always been a voracious reader and I have no tolerance for shitty writing. (Fifty pages minus your age is the maximum number to devote before concluding that the book is bullshit.) The Third Edition (as I called it,) was full of typos, plot holes, extraneous detail, and just awful names for characters.
The first time I read it through, I did so without a pen in my hand. The tendency to start correcting everything would drive me out of my role as Reader and into full-on Editor, but it wasn't time for that yet. It's important to read for readability's sake, at least if I wanted to respect the people I would eventually ask to read it. Writing without regard to the reader is just masturbation.
I decided to literally cut the book apart and separate it into its constituent chapters and scenes, just as I had split them up in Ulysses. As I edited, I could freely reorder anything I liked.
It took an afternoon, but I stripped the spine, cut out the pages, and divided them into Parts, Chapters, and Scenes. There were six different Parts, which I knew was too many, but I decided to start with the very beginning. I stood at my writing desk to write a free-form journal entry about my impressions reading the novel, what the central themes seemed to be, and how I wanted to start it.
This starting point gave me the clarity I needed to order the plot for Part I. I could see, finally, that I was telling the story of Steven Moore as it appeared to Jason Fuller, and that revealed a lot of unnecessary Fuller stuff that I could cut. I tore through the rest of Part I looking for superfluous philosophy, over-detailed descriptions of classes and coursework, and redundant characters I could condense for the sake of simpler storytelling. I am not Tolstoy.
I retyped every chapter I edited once I had been through all of its scenes. Post-It notes and paper clips helped me keep track of what went where. Just in case something turned out to be useful later, I kept the rejected pages as well. (Even now, months I finished writing, I have a box full of unused pages.)
With fully half of Part I cleared away, I turned my attention to the rest of the book. I could only fit a Part at a time in my bag with my other books and tools, but a single part was clocking in at nearly two hundred pages. The book was way too long, but I learned from the success of Part I that the more I could cut, the better the end result would be, as long as I was cutting anything obscuring the truth of the story.