5 Techniques To Edit A Novel

Everyone works differently. We all work at our pace and do things our own way.

There is no right way to write a novel. We all get through our first drafts in a different way and at different times.

Some plan, some pants. Some try to have the first draft written in a certain amount of time, others just write a little bit until it’s done. Even if it takes years.

Editing isn’t much different.

We all essentially look for the same things when we self-edit our novels. We look for plot holes, proper characters development, pacing issues, inconsistency. Then there’s the proofreading in which you look for typos, grammatical errors, spelling mishaps, and other mechanic-type stuff that goes into writing novels.

I usually end up with a million drafts of my novels and I edit each draft differently. It helps keep things interesting and I catch different things during each method.

1. Ask yourself, “What do I want out of this draft?

No matter what draft you’re on, what are you hoping to accomplish? Do you want to fix all the pacing issues? Are you trying to make sure the scenes are in a good order that make sense?

Make a list of what you want to get done and then look at each chapter individually. Ask yourself, “Does this chapter accomplish what I wanted to say?”

2. Read aloud

Your eyes and ears catch things your brain doesn’t. Your brain is too smart for its own good and automatically fixes typos to trick you into thinking you never made any mistakes. By reading out loud, you can see and hear the typos and how awkward some sentences sound.

3. Every sentence counts

Take your draft one sentence at a time. Yes, I know it sounds tedious, but it’ll help in the end.

The host of my writers workshop taught me that every sentence should do one of three things:

  • Set the scene
  • Develop character
  • Advance the plot

If a sentence doesn’t do one of those three things, take it out.

4. Read backwards

I heard this one from Sacha and you can read more about this method on her blog. She heard it from another friend. I started editing my novel this way and I have to say I quite enjoy it and I think it’s super helpful.

Read your novel in chapter order (start at chapter one and go from there), but read each chapter backward. Start at the last paragraph of chapter one and work your way up. This allows you to take your focus off of the actual story and search for other things.

5. Edit while writing

I know people say not to edit while writing. Just get the first draft written, the first draft is you just telling yourself the story, yada, yada, yada. I do agree with this, but there’s no harm in thinking about the editing process.

As you write that first draft, try to keep a list of editing notes to the side. After you write chapter five, did you suddenly have second thoughts that it should have happened earlier in the story? Make a note. “Look at chapter five, maybe rearrange the chapters and scenes to advance the plot better.”

This is also a great opportunity to make notes about researching later as well.


There are more than five ways to edit your novel than what I just listed here. These are the ways I edit my novels, though. I use a different method for each draft.

I’ve just started reading backwards the other day and I think it works. But there will be more on that later when I actually finish the draft.

How do you edit your novels?

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