Posted in Editing

9 Steps To Editing Your Novel

One question I tend to ask myself when editing my novels is:

Where do I start?

I make a list of notes to edit as I write. Sometimes I’ll write a scene and make a note whether it’s really needed or not. Sometimes I make notes about the characters or the pacing of the story.

Yet, even though I have that list, I begin editing and I find myself just reading. I’m reading like a reader, not editing like an editor.

But first drafts are always terrible, right? So there’s a lot to go through, a lot to think about, a lot to change. It takes a long time and a lot of extra drafts and trees.

So, I’ve decided, in an attempt to get myself a little more organized with my own editing, I’d come up with a process for it. Maybe this will work, maybe it won’t. But who knows, maybe one of you will find it helpful.

9 Steps to Editing a Novel

Step 1 – Take a break

I know this is an odd first step, but hear me out.

Once you finish writing that full first draft, step away from it. Let it rest for a while. I typically wait at least a month, sometimes longer. Give your characters a break and let your mind rest from that grueling plot. This way you can come back to it with fresh eyes.

Step 2 – Print it out, mark it up

Print out your manuscript double-spaced (for plenty of room to make notes) and double-sided if you can (sorry, trees!). Then begin your read-through and edits.

Be sure to look for any developmental errors and line edit to give it a thorough read through. Also, have sticky notes, index cards, highlights, various colored pens, etc. You want to be able to tell the difference between all your edits and still be able to somewhat read the page when you go to type it back up again.

Step 3 – Take a break

Self-explanatory. Wait another month or at least two weeks.

Step 4 – Rewrite and edit

Take your edits from the first draft and type it back up again. As you rewrite, edit some more. You’ll catch mistakes you didn’t before and your mind might change on some things. For example, you may disagree with an edit you made or you may add new edits that you left alone before.

When this is done, print it out again.

Step 5 – Tag, you’re it

Let someone else look at it. You can:

  • Get beta-readers (two or three or how many you’d like)
  • Ask a close friend or family member who’s not afraid to be truthful and mark up your manuscript
  • Submit it to your writer’s group (if you’re part of one)
  • Hire an editor

You can pick and choose from this list or you can do all of them. It’d be a good idea to get this set up ahead of time and let them know you’ll have the manuscript to them by a certain date. Give them a realistic deadline as well.

This will allow you to see your book through the eyes of a reader and get various opinions on it as well as general editing critiques.

Step 6 – Rewrite and edit

While others are looking at your novel that’s kind of like your break from it. When they give it back, get started on it right away. In case you have questions for them, you can ask them in a timely manner since the manuscript will still be fresh in their minds.

Rewrite the draft and edit as you go really thinking about the feedback you’ve received.

Step 7 – Repeat Steps 2 – 4 (Optional)

Depending on what stage the writing of your novel is in, you may have to give it another thorough self-edit. If this is the case, repeats steps two through 4. Print it out, mark it up, take a break, then rewrite making the edits to the new draft.

If your manuscript seems ready after having others look at it, you can skip this and go straight to the next step.

Step 8 – Proofread

Print out the manuscript one last time and give it one last read through.

Proofread it for any last minute changes like typos, grammatical errors, spelling errors, etc. Have someone else proofread it for you as well. It’s always good to have another pair of eyes.

Once the final corrections are made, you should be good to go.

Step 9 – Rewrite and submit

Add in the proofreading corrections and then you should have a polished manuscript on your hands. You can them submit your story to where ever you want.

In Conclusion…

This is the process I’m going to take for the mystery novel. I just started the first major edits this month and I hope to be done by the end of the month. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes, how it works out for me. I’m hoping to be done with the manuscript by the end of 2017, but hopefully earlier.

Do you use a similar process to edit your novels? What kind of process do you use? Let me know in the comments below!

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Author:

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Rachel Poli is a writer and blogger. She has an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a bachelor’s degree in English Studies. She enjoys writing young adult novels, middle-grade, and children’s picture books. She is currently working on her first novel.

25 thoughts on “9 Steps To Editing Your Novel

  1. Great advice! Another little tip regarding proofreading: change the font size, style, and/or color. Your eyes get so used to reading the same manuscript in the same font that it’s easier to skip over typos. Changing the way the manuscript looks allows your eyes to catch errors easier.

  2. This could not have come at a better time. I’ve just finished writing my first draft of a story a few weeks ago and, after a break, I am about to read it through and start making notes. For some reason, the thought of doing this is making me more anxious than writing the first draft. Maybe it’s because I knew the first draft would be messy, but now I’m supposed to be cleaning it up and I feel I have no idea how.
    It was nice to see the editing process neatly explained though. It gave me a nice clear view of what steps to take.

    1. Editing is scary, I agree. I never know where to start. You just have to find your groove with it though. These steps are a good guideline, but you have to see what will work for you.
      Still, I’m glad you find this helpful. 🙂

  3. After writing a long document like a novel I always wish I had created a decision tree while writing — yes, this way, or no; this other way, or a series of “if-then” sequences. Maybe on a chapter basis. But I don’t. Though I think some writers do (especially the post-modernists with their choppy segways or non-segways) — for example, John Irving or David Vann? (Note: I read a lot of women writers too, but I forget their names. My problem, not theirs.) What do you think? Plant a tree? Create a chain of if-thens?

    1. I don’t think that would be a bad idea. If that’s what works for you, then go for it. That’s an interesting way of looking at it too. I usually just go with my general outline.

  4. This has been really helpful. I’m in the process of editing a novel for a family a member and didn’t have a clue where to start. Thank you for posting this and good luck with your novel 🙂

    1. Of course! It’s hard to know where to start whether you’re editing your own novel or someone else’s. Thank you and good luck. 🙂

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