Gathering the Editing Tools

When December rolls around, I'm going to take a short break from writing and get the distance I need from my NaNo'd manuscript as I prepare to edit it. Then, come December 12th, I shall roll up my sleeves and get back to work!

When I edited my currently querying book last year, I tried out a variety of methods because there are a lot of ways to go about editing. I threw away what didn't work for me and adapted what did work to my own ways of getting things done.  Here's a very rough guide to what I came up with:

Stage One - THE BIG REREAD.  Prepare to not feel very good about what you've written but always enjoy the moments when your abilities surprise you - "Ooooh yeah, I am a good writer!"

Stage One will also take up a lot of red ink.  My first draft was somewhere around 96,000 words long.  I cut over 20,000 words.

Aaah, first draft edit.  Look at the red!

Stage Two - TWEAKING WHILE TYPING. As you type up Stage One's work, you'll find little things you missed and want to change them as you go.  My experience of Stage Two last year involved getting so bored editing a three chapter section of the book I cut it out completely and the plot smoothed out instantly!

Stage Three - STAGE ONE AND TWO, REPEAT! Except probably with slightly less self-loathing.

Stage Four - THE BIG PICTURE EDIT.  I read each paragraph, wrote a single sentence summary and asked myself a simple question - "Is this moving the plot on?" If I answered yes, paragraph lived to see another draft.  If no, I made a note to delete it.

Here's the notebook I kept during my Stage Four edit:

Stage Five - NEW SCENES/LITTLE DETAILS.  Sometimes I had to add in a couple of extra scenes or needed to reword existing work but didn't have enough room on the print out.  I would write a number next to what needed to be rewritten or added to, then handwrite said scene on a separate sheet of paper. 

And by this stage, you've been through your manuscript a couple of times so you're pretty sure it's just small things left to deal with.  The main thing is to make sure you've been consistent throughout.  Check characters have the same hair/eye/skin colour throughout, their names don't change and facts don't contradict themselves.  My main character stated she'd wanted to be an eco-friendly businesswoman at the start of the novel but near the end she suddenly decided she'd always wanted to be an architect.  Whoops!

Stage Six - OTHER PEOPLE GET THEIR HANDS ON IT.  Ooooh yeah, you better believe you need beta readers, and you better believe they are going to show you a thing or two about how not readable your MS really is.

Stage Seven - NO, YOU'RE NOT DONE YET! Once you get it back from the beta readers, do not just type up their suggestions and start sending it out to agencies.  Well, maybe you can, but I couldn't.  I didn't always agree with my beta readers (because I'm nothing if not stubborn) and given that they are also human, they missed a few things and by the way, it's your job to fix it, not theirs.  So Stage Seven is also a Stage One and Two Redux! Have fun!

Stage Eight - BETA READERS STRIKE BACK.  If you have lovely beta readers they will re-read your work with the new bits.  At this stage it can also be really helpful to ask someone new to read it so the story is fresh to them. 

Stage Nine - THE FINAL PUSH.  This is the time when any further editing is just swapping things for the sake of doing it.  Tweak whatever's really necessary as pointed out by your beta readers and then take a break.

Stage Ten - QUERY TIME! I sat on my book for a couple of weeks before I started querying, and even that probably wasn't long enough.  But there comes a point when you have to stop reading what you've got and just take the plunge.  At which point I wish you good luck, tea for the rejections and CAKE for the celebrations! :D

Tea, anyone? ^_^ I'll pop out for cupcakes soon :D

So there you have it, the way I work my way through drafts.  It might look like your method or it may not.  It's just what I put together after a lot of trial and error.

What's your best editing tip?


  1. I think my best editing tip is this: Go over that beast time and time again. It's amazing what you find on each and every pass-through. On my final pass, I managed to cut another 2000 words just by deleting unnecessary words. (Why use two when one will do?) Not to mention you catch little inconsistencies that you missed the first several times you read the thing.

    Great list, Cole. It's nice to see other people's process. :)

    1. I agree - it is truly amazing just how much you can miss after three, four or five read throughs.

      Thanks, Jaime!

  2. I'm looking forward to trying out some of your methods in my own revision. I usually do a read-through on my Kindle, it makes it feel like a 'real book' and I can look at it more critically that way.

    1. I use my ebook reader for my big picture edit. It's really helpful and saves paper! :D

  3. Haha, I love the red pen explosion! I do all of my editing on my computer, so it's a strike-through explosion instead. Scary at first, but editing always makes the story better.

    1. I agree completely with you about editing. I love developing the basics into something worth sharing :)

  4. Love all the photos!

  5. That's a great list. I'll have to bookmark this page.

  6. Wow - you've got quite the system!


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