5 Steps to Edit Your Novel

Edit, it's a four-letter word for a lot of people (okay for everyone it literally is a four-letter word but you know what I mean, right?) and that's because it's firckin' hard sometimes. You've spent days, weeks, months, years working on a story and now it's time to tick the knife to it. Honestly it can feel a little demoralizing if you let it, but I've slowly learned to understand and even occasionally love the editing process (don't tell first drafting about that though). It's taken time but after several failed novels that are housed in the deep dark recesses of my harddrive, I've realized I can't write a novel, do one quick pass to clean up the grammar then send it off to query. Nope, bad plan and you're going to have a bad time. So what's a gal to do?

At my very core, I am made up of to-do lists. I LOVE lists and checking things off, it's such a rush. So, here's what works for me I have to dive into edits and I'm not even sure where to start. It's a five step process that doesn't have a set timeframe. Some steps may take no time at all, and some may take huge amounts of time, it all depends on where that novel is. And yes, there are always exceptions to every rule and what works for me might not work for you, but I'm not here to talk about the infinite options for edits, I'm talking about one process. Take bits and pieces of mine that suit you and get to work. 

Step 1: Read And Take Notes

I read over the whole draft again and on a sheet of paper I'll write out the changes I need to make, big or small. This includes things like change story present tense to past tense and things like make sidekick less annoying as well as main character's last name changes. It's EVERYTHING all smooshed into a list that I can look at and figure out what problems are where. It also helps me see the story as a whole instead of in chunks like I did when I was in the middle of drafting. This is a great way to catch areas where the story has gotten weak. 

Step 2: Identify Types of Edits

After you've written down all the edits you want to make, identify the type. You can use a highlighter and give each type a color or whatever works for you. Types might include: emotional arc, side story, world building, tense change, grammar. This is where you need to brutal. Even if you love this one side character, if they don't serve the story then out they go. Figure out what the biggest, ugliest section is going to be and put a big ol' star by it. 

Step 3: Attack One Section at a Time

This is hard. It's so easy to want to go in and do ALL THE THINGS in one fell swoop but that's not the ideal. Yes, maybe you can lump tense and grammar changes together, but trying to tackle big level emotional changes at the same time as comma placement doesn't work for me. For my last edit the biggest thing was changing the story from present tense to past tense. I went through the whole thing changing the tense (and some grammatical issues along the way) before then jumping into working on the character arc. Find the thing that feels scariest to you and do it first. This may mean you go through the story four or five times, that's okay. You'll find new ways to make it stronger.

Step 4: Take a Break
Once you've done all that, take a break. Go take a bubble bath, read a book, binge watch Stranger Things. Get away from the book for a while. Space and rest is a part of the creative process, something that we try to rush but really, you need distance to be able to look again. Even if it's just for a day or a few hours, get away from the manuscript. 

Step 5: Final Pass
After all that, give it one more read over. I know your eyes are crossing over and you hate everything you've ever written because you've read this novel a thousand times, but do it again. Look at it with new eyes and see if there's anything else to polish. For me, this is where I frequently get a ridiculous idea about some major revision (as in, hey the bad guy is a different person) and panic. But that usually fades away and I fall back in love with the story one word at a time. 

And then you're off to publishing land. 


At this point, try to find a trusted edit partner to read it for you or if you still feel like there are problems, hire an editor to work with you (but be careful to not get suckered into a bad one) to really help your manuscript. After you get your notes back from your partner, you'll probably have to revise again. Take a breath, it's okay. You're like 73.2% further along than most people ever get with their writing. 

How do you know when you're done? 

For me, it's when I start playing around with phrasing. When my edit passes are more just me playing with language then I know that I don't have anything more to change. You may send it out to another group of readers for more feedback, but at some point you have to find your 'this is as good as it gets right now' and let it go. (Dear god, please don't sing that song)

Editing is tough and finding ways to make it work for you mean you becoming a stronger, better writer. So don't let edits scare you off, keep writing!