5 Novel Editing Mistakes That Will Make You Want to Pull out Your Hair

5 Novel Editing Mistakes That Will Make You Want to Pull out Your Hair

62 Remarkable Comments

Oh, how you love it!

That inner warmth you feel when you realize your scene is way too long and you have to cut some of your most cherished writing…

That joyful moment when you detect that your character needs a much stronger motive…

That sweet taste of gratification when you realize your sentences look like a traffic jam…

Not really (and yeah, that inner warmth is probably rage…).

Revising and editing a novel is a drag, for you as much as for any other writer out there. Yes, it’s tiresome, disheartening, and oftentimes as boring as watching grass grow next to an insurance agent. Us creative people were just not made for this. It’s not what we signed up for.

But fear not, oh esteemed reader, I got you a mini guide that will show you the most important rules to push through this necessary evil. Let me hold your hand, and let’s do this together…

In this post, read about:

  • 5 things to avoid at all costs when editing
  • The most common editing system
  • Why editing too quickly after writing is bad for you
  • An editing trick I always use but have never seen mentioned anywhere

And in true Ride-the-pen spirit, below please find an…

Novel Editing Checklist

Download this free cheat sheet, print it, and keep it ready for your next editing extravaganza. It contains a summary of all the points of this post, plus one additional editing mistake not mentioned here.
Checklist: 6 Disastrous Editing Mistakes to Avoid

You can also download my highly useful checklist with 44 Key Questions to ask about your story. I receive enthusiastic reader emails about it all the time.

Now are you ready for the writer’s most haunting nightmare? 3, 2, 1… find out the five editing mistakes that will make you go bald in no time:

Mistake #1: You Can’t Be Bothered to Take Editing Seriously

What you do: Ok, you poured your heart and soul into your plot, characters, transitions and dialogue, and you even tried to make your sentences kind of readable. You put together a well thought out package, so nobody gets hurt.

Let’s be frank, you and I know how much work that was!

And after you are finished, not only are you supposed to go through all of this once again, but several more times? Are you kidding me??

So you just skip it, or do it one time, sloppily, and then you tell yourself it’s enough and move on to your next story. Feels much better.

The Problem: I know, I know. You hate editing. Creative people get bored easily. But if you ignore editing, I guarantee you that your story will be a mess. Even if the main elements are in place, at least it will sound awful.

You see, there is not a single writer on this planet whose work doesn’t need editing. Whatever we write, we need to dedicate some effort to polishing it. It’s just the hard work that every artist needs to bring to the table as well. So just do your homework!

The Solution: If your story matters to you, then make sure to give it as many editing cycles as it needs. Just take your time and push through it.

Once you read through your entire story, and you are happy with your plot, characters, sentence flow, grammar, spelling, and so forth… only then are you done. Your reward will be a story you can be truly proud of, because you gave it your best.

Mistake #2: You Are Too Much in Love with What You Wrote to Cut or Change It

What you do: Oh, how you love your 30-page-description of every single room in the castle! You think you described that castle really well and in enough detail for everybody to imagine what it looks like; and you put that description right at the beginning, so people start off on the right foot. You rub your hands gleefully, thinking of those far-fetched metaphors and artfully constructed multi-clause sentences – and you would never cut any of this in a million years!

The Problem: As writers, we need to become immersed in the illusion, in the language we create. That’s great! And while you are writing, it’s best not to censor yourself at all, just let your creative juices flow.

But there is also a problem with that great creative state: We lose the ability to look at our writing from the outside, from our reader’s point of view. We become total narcissists, thinking that everybody is sitting inside our brain, neatly seated on velvet chairs, ready to understand and enjoy.

But it’s not like that. As a writer, it’s your responsibility to make your work understandable, convenient and enjoyable. And when you become too unwilling to cut or change your writing, your story will suffer badly.

The Solution: Let go! Yes, take the Buddhist approach. Just let go. Every good writer has learned to scratch parts she loves, be it on a greater scale (story), or on a smaller scale (language). It might be painful, but as you write more and more, you will learn to accept it.

The first draft is for indulging in creativity, and later on, the editing process is to use your conscious mind and craft, your experience, to trim your story down, and make it nice and readable. It’s like yin and yang. Learn to use both of them, each at their given time, and you will become an amazing author.

5 disastrous editing mistakes to look out for (+ Checklist)


Mistake #3: You Lack a System (Also Known As: You Edit Like a Pig)

What you do: Every now and then you remember that your story needs editing. So you skim through the pages, checking if everything is okay. While your first draft isn’t finished yet, you already correct paragraphs and sentences; later you check for typos before even taking a closer look at the dialogue. You just stick your snout into the text at random, like said pig.

The Problem: Granted, this kind of editing is better than no editing. But you are leaving a lot up to chance. You might catch or not catch bigger and smaller flaws in your story, and you might end up with a fairly good or a rather bad story.

Or maybe after you have moved on to your next tale, you will discover cringe-worthy glitches that will spoil all the fun of reading. And all because you couldn’t be bothered to stick to a plan.

The Solution: Try to establish your own personal editing routine. If you just started out, it might take a while to find the method that works best for you; don’t worry, you have time.

Maybe you like to read the entire story twice before you edit a single word. Maybe you sleep on it for two nights. Maybe you like to proofread backwards for typos. Or you like to outsource line editing or proofreading to a professional; or to show your story to a trusted friend at some point. Whatever it is, find the plan that works best for you; and stick to that plan. Every single time.


5 disastrous editing mistakes to look out for (+Checklist)

Ready for Editing!

Interlude: The Novel Editing System We Love                

How to insert background info unobtrusivelyYes, that sub-head is tongue in cheek. Because, after all, you should find your own perfect system (remember?).

However, it has proven very useful to go from bigger picture to smaller picture when editing. For example, if you want to change your plot, do it before you change your sentence structure.

It should be crystal clear why that is the better tactic: If you make a bigger change, you often have to scratch entire paragraphs, pages, or even chapters. And then all of the work on a smaller scale you have already finished will be rendered useless, and you will have to do it all over again.

Here is the standard editing system, from larger to smaller scale, which means from first to last step:

  1. Developmental Editing: This step refers to storytelling. If you think anything is wrong with your plot, characters, motivations… those are the first things you have to take care of. They will often require a lot of re-writing. I’m a big fan of coming in prepared and only starting to write once you know your story and your characters very well. This will almost completely spare you any developmental editing. Yay! The best checklist for developmental editing you can find anywhere (in my opinion) was created by yours truly, and you can download the PDF here for free.
  2. Line Editing: The second step zooms in a bit more, and deals with paragraph structure, sentence flow, choice of words, etc… How does your language sound and flow? Editing gets really interesting here. Don’t be afraid to re-write entire paragraphs, especially if you are new to writing. You will be so much happier with your story in the end, and you will learn a lot during the process.
  3. Copy Editing: We are moving closer to simple mechanics here. This is about grammar and punctuation, and in most cases you can objectively tell what’s right or wrong. Don’t hesitate to outsource this step, and also the following final one, if you can afford it. It won’t take anything away from your creative work, and you will save yourself much of the boredom of editing.
  4. Proofreading: As a last step, check for typos. It needs to be done in order to look professional. No excuse – yes, I’m talking to you! As a reader, you probably know that too many typos in a text are annoying as hell and can throw you out of the illusion fast. So just do it.

Here is another mistake that will make your life as an editor difficult:

Mistake #4: You Edit Too Quickly after Finishing Your First Draft

What you do: You are super responsible about editing, and you put on your best bowtie and get to it right after your first draft. Good boy or girl! You go through it as fast as possible. Developmental editing… check. Line editing… check. Copy editing… check. Proofreading… check. On to next story. Buuuuut…. Not so fast, young Jedi! Don’t you see…

The Problem: You are too quick, especially with your developmental editing. You see, your mind is a great subconscious processor of your work, but only if you give it time.

It’s true, the more time passes between finishing your first draft and you re-reading what you have created, the more objectively you are able to judge what works and what doesn’t. If you get to editing too fast, you will still be very much in a writer’s headspace, not a reader’s, and judging objectively will be impossible.

The Solution: Leave some time between writing and editing. These are two very different states of mind, it’s like creativity vs craft. Never edit while you are in the process of writing. And once you are done writing, sleep on your story for at least one night (better several nights), before you start with developmental editing and “judging your story.”

Put each of your headgears, the writer’s hat and the editor’s hat, on at their appropriate time, and you will get the most out of your story. It will be imaginative, but also well-crafted.

5 disastrous editing mistakes to look out for (+ Checklist)

The Author at Work

 Mistake #5: You Don’t Give Yourself Options for Editing

What you do: When you write, you take a decision every second. You choose certain character actions, sentences, words, and reject all other possible character actions, sentences, words. To put it bluntly, you prevent much more than you make happen.

The Problem: It has to be that way, but it’s also a waste of effort, since during writing you are just in the perfect headspace for finding the right words. Should you really throw away all of the versions but one, only to tediously come up with something new during editing, in case you need it? I don’t know about you, but I hate rewriting parts I have written before. So how can you preserve some mental energy?

The Solution: Give yourself several options during writing, and it will be easy to choose a great one during editing! This is mainly about line editing. It’s a little trick I have never seen mentioned anywhere else, but I do it all the time: Whenever in doubt which of two or more sentences or words to write, you write down all of them. Later choose one of them in editing.

If you write by hand, write the alternate words or phrases in small letters above your first version. If you write on the PC, use slashes between your versions (“/”). I have done this countless times while writing this very post, and I know that during editing, in most cases it will only take me a second to choose the better option.

This can also help a bit with developmental editing; for example, imagine trying two slightly different reactions for a character, and giving him two alternative dialogue lines to choose from. Test this trick, you might love it! You will see, most of the time it will become a no-brainer which version to choose.

Your Novel Editing Checklist

You can download a summary of this post to quickly go over before your next editing session. The sheet also contains one additional tip that’s not included in this post:

Checklist: 6 Disastrous Editing Mistakes to Avoid

I also highly recommend you get my extensive checklist for developmental editing. It contains 44 Key Questions to ask once your story is done; you can use it to check your story in any way you could ever imagine. Download it here for free.

The Non-Writing Prompt

Today, I don’t have a writing prompt for you. Instead, I want you (yes, you!) to tell me about the biggest problems and joys you encounter when editing.

What’s your biggest obstacle? Do you maybe even like editing? If so, are you kind of perverted?

What do you wish you could change about editing, if you had a magic wand? Maybe transform all the English words into one word, so you can do no wrong?

Let me know in the comments!

End of Editing

No matter whether you love or hate editing, you have to do it. Yes, you have to soldier through it, and your reward on the other end will be a well-crafted story you can be proud of. That story might be awesome or a miserable fail, but after dedicating some effort to editing, you will know that you have given it your all, and this will make you proud.

You have given your best, you have grown as a writer, and you will do even better with your next story! In a world that is constantly looking for quick fixes, that means a lot. Slowly but surely, you are becoming a great teller of your tales…

Image Credits: Desperate Guy: sabelskaya/Fotolia; Cute Boar: jihane37/Fotolia; Zen Elephant: Orlando Florin Rosu/Fotolia

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62 Remarkable Comments. Join in!


  1. Lance Haley

    Alex –

    I have read dozens of articles on editing – many of which I have saved in my computer (links and saved pdfs). They generally cover much of what you have offered as information on this complex topic. Some are oriented specifically towards story development editing, several of them noting that it is not uncommon to have five rewrites and edits in order to produce a final draft.

    Question: I know the process is expensive. However, I have read a great deal about the wisdom of hiring different editors for the various types of editing. Frankly, I want to leave these things up to the pros; I don’t have the patience to do it, nor the willingness to “carve my child up”. I have to trust others, then make the decision as to whether I agree with them (several other writing experts have expressed the notion that sometimes a writer’s intuition can be constructive).

    Plus, given the fact that I practice law, I likely would be in a better position where I could afford to pay multiple editors. I also intend to crowdsource on Kickstarter to mitigate paying those costs out-of-pocket.

    Your thoughts?

    1. Alex

      Hi Lance! Leaving it to the pros is a perfectly valid solution, if you want to save yourself the hassle and if you are ready to pay for it.

      The only part I would definitely do myself first is developmental editing. After that, why not get additional opinions from the pros? But the first time you should definitely do yourself, because that part of editing affects your story, your vision in such a deep way. This is your brainchild, and you are the one who should take the major decisions. If we don’t what are we in writing for then?

      1. Lance Haley

        Alex, thanks for the feedback. I intended on doing the initial developmental editing. What I have read is to throw the first draft “in a drawer” and walk away from it for a couple of weeks or so. Then come back with a fresh POV to assess the story in a more objective way and write your second draft. Thereafter, you can have an developmental expert review it and make suggestions to sharpen scenes, etc.

          1. Robert Hurlbert

            The response to the problems with editing is outstanding. It is absolutely necessary to set a recent work aside; let the mind clear about it; begin writing a different piece, if possible. I’ve found it insightful to approach rewriting with a more sensible effort. You have informed us about this many times.

  2. Thomas Weaver

    ‘Editing is hard, and no creative person likes to do it.’ That’s what I keep seeing in various online articles on editing. Somehow, it feels as if they’re saying, ‘If you don’t hate editing with every fiber of your being, you’re not really creative, and you’re not really a writer — you only think you are.’ I wish we could all, y’know, stop spreading this myth.

    Aside from that issue (which I probably take too personally because I am a writer who enjoys editing), this is an EXCELLENT article on how to edit one’s own writing. I like how the article contains detailed suggestions for how to go about doing each stage of editing, but it also contains a reminder that no system is perfect for everyone, so each writer should figure out what works best for him/her and do that.

    “I’m a big fan of coming in prepared and only starting to write once you know your story and your characters very well. This will almost completely spare you any developmental editing. Yay!” Yay, indeed. The author I work with most often does all of two drafts of a novel before handing it off to a line/copy editor (me). This is all that’s necessary, because he thinks about what he’s doing instead of just putting words on the page for the sake of putting words on the page.

    1. Alex

      Point taken, Thomas. Emphasizing how hard something is only makes it look all that harder. And let’s not forget people for whom editing is an enjoyable experience. I wrote it like that, because I personally don’t like editing; I want the story to be done already, and mostly editing is not a very creative process. I also had the feeling that for many of my readers editing is a hurdle.

      To each their own, as you say. That’s what many articles about writing don’t want to acknowledge, they want to press you into THEIR system. I say no way, forget that!

      Do you enjoy all parts of editing, or one in particular?

      Anybody else want to chime in? Tell me if you love it or loath it.

      1. Hywela Lyn

        I actually enjoy self editing. I usually leave it several weeks then go through and edit several times until I just have to call a halt, before sending it to my publisher, hoping that it’s as clean and polished as I can get it, but knowing if it’s accepted I will have to go through several more edits the publisher’s editor. But that’s OK, I enjoy the process. It seems a lot easier to have something all ready to hone and polish. Much as I enjoy writing from scratch I still find it much harder work than the later task of editing.

        1. Alex

          That´s a good description of the entire process, Hywela.

          I feel similiar about editing, I just enjoy it less than you. But it´s definitely a lot less work to polish the gem than to produce it.

  3. Chris

    I’ll get this bit out of the way first… ‘I’m a pantser, not a planner’. This is relevant to the way I edit. 
    My current WIP has got the first 20K words written, and the ending… but I’m still filling in the middle bit. I have written a couple of scenes to slot into the middle, and at least I’ve got to the stage where I know where the plot’s heading, but I need to come up with a parallel thread to weave in, to keep my characters on their toes.

    Because I frequently go back into the text to insert pieces that make the ‘new’ stuff make sense (does that make sense?), I’m forever re-reading what I’ve written… and correcting/altering/re-writing at the same time. This means that when I do finish, the typos, spellings, grammar, and sentence structures, are pretty well sorted, as is the dialogue (I really enjoy writing dialogue). 

    I’ll still read through a couple of times to make sure that it all makes sense, and that scenes are in the best order… sometimes it feels better to set up something a lot earlier (I write crime novels), other times, a crucial piece of evidence I’ve decided to use can’t be used unless it’s introduced earlier – In one novel, my editor (yes, it goes to one of those too) pointed out that the record being played on the radio, that triggered a realisation in a character’s mind, hadn’t (in the story) been recorded yet (Doh!).
    OK… I simply moved the introduction of the band (who later become murder victims) to the book’s opening.

    I don’t mind editing, but I prefer editing someone else’s work which I do a little of for my publisher. Fortunately, I’ve got an arrangement with another author (brokered by our publisher) that I do his final edits, and he does mine. We’re both pretty anal about spelling and grammar, and both have various contacts to check any facts and details we’re not sure about. My editor writes thrillers, sci-fi, and mysteries, has great contacts in the police and military, and was in the RAF for most of his adult life. I have contacts in the arts, engineering, automotive, civil aviation, as well as the police. (and to complete the set, our publisher has a tame customs officer, and is himself a martial arts expert.)… Most bases are covered, and if not… there’s always Google and the telephone.

    1. Alex

      Interesting, Chris. That sounds like an arduous process, but you seem to have figured out exactly what works for you. And I’m sure that partnership is very fruitful, as you actually care about each other’s works and have each other’s back.

  4. Michaele Lockhart

    Lance commented that “editing is expensive.” It’s not nearly as expensive as not editing. Once those words are published today, there is no pulling them back: the digital world apparently lasts forever. You might be pleasantly surprised. Don’t always shop around for the cheapest or a beginner who will do it for free. Find a trusted professional, please, and form a professional relationship with that editor. You’re an attorney: you wouldn’t want a new grad with no trial experience at all defending your life in a complex case, would you? Editors are defending your life as a writer.

    As of 2015, the total number of ebooks and print books published PER DAY was 4500. That is not a typo. Most of these have never seen an editor or even a trusted first reader. A well edited book will stand out in a publishing world without gatekeepers. Multiple edits are not always a good idea, unless the writer knows in advance he/she needs a developmental editor first; then, after working on a manuscript for a while and he is almost ready to submit, then hire a copy editor, just to polish the great words he has placed on the page. A good, reputable editor will catch misspellings, homonyms, POV shifts, punctuation, inconsistent verb tenses, unintentional repetitions, misplaced modifiers, and so much more. In other words, the editor is your friend. A reputable editor will not randomly “carve up your baby,” but will discuss any problem areas with you. That’s why we are called professionals. Usually, with traditional publishing, the publisher pays for a final copy edit. With self-publishing, it’s the writer’s responsibility to put the best possible face on his work.

    BTW, proofreading, which is not “editing,” is a final step after a manuscript has been formatted for publishing. Whether the writer has a traditional contract or is self-publishing, proofreading is always the separate and final step and never part of an edit per se. I am a freelance editor who also works on contract for publishers. I have found that many multiple edits, as this writer refers to them, often produces writing by committee, which tends to rob a manuscript of its original spark.

    1. Thomas Weaver

      “As of 2015, the total number of ebooks and print books published PER DAY was 4500. That is not a typo. Most of these have never seen an editor or even a trusted first reader.” Unfortunately, many writers see this as justification for not bothering with editing, even self-editing. ‘Noone else is doing it, I don’t see why I should do it either?’ (If the bad punctuation in that sentence made you cringe, imagine trying to read an entire novel written that way.)

      As a reader, I’d be delighted to wake up tomorrow to discover that the world has undergone a fundamental change, and suddenly all writers of fiction actually know how to use commas correctly. As an editor, I kinda like being paid to fix other people’s grammar and punctuation and word choice, but I’d gladly give that up if it meant I could find more novels to read without wanting to throw them across the room because the writing is so objectively bad.

      “Don’t always shop around for the cheapest or a beginner who will do it for free.” Some of the ones who charge a hefty fee are incompetent, too. (Fun fact: if a freelance editor’s own web site is FULL of errors, that person is not qualified to edit anyone’s writing. Authors should at least know enough about the mechanics of writing that they can spot incompetent “editors” and avoid hiring them.)

      1. Sylvia

        ‘if a freelance editor’s own website is FULL of errors, that person is not qualified to edit anyone’s writing.” Agree. Same with the websites of writing instructors. Even ones with multiple published books. One of my pet peeves. It ensnares so many newbie writers.

      2. Trish Titus

        I like your post. It makes complete sense. I agree that freelance and even professional editors make mistakes and do not always catch everything. I’ve had that happen. I do my best to self edit first.

    2. Lance Haley

      Michaele –

      You may have misinterpreted what I was trying to say: I am more than willing to pay whatever it costs to get an experienced, credentialed, and trustworthy editor(s) to do the job. Precisely for the very reasons you state. I want my novel to be thoroughly critiqued, vetted, and edited before it is released to the public. I believe in the old adage, “you get what you pay for”….in most cases.

    3. Alex

      Some insight straight from the horse’s mouth; good to hear.

      If anybody is looking for an editor, I recommend Odesk. It’s a platform to hire freelancers, you have a lot of choice there. Like mentioned in above comments, don’t go for the cheapest choice.

  5. William Timothy Murray

    As part of my editing process, I have my stories read out loud to me as I read along. This has proven to be an extremely valuable way to find errors, typos, and to get a good sense of the rhythm and pace and mood of each passage. And when it comes to dialogue, it is a great way to stay “in character.” Yes, this is a time-consuming, stop-and-go process, but I do it after every draft, after every correction that I make or get from my editors (yes, I use more than one editor). And if my reader stumbles over a certain passage or phrase, I know I have to work on that.

    1. Alex

      This is excellent advice. If you have the patience and time, that is. A variation of it would be to read it out loud yourself.

      Rhythm in particular is a vastly underrated part of prose, and you get a great feeling for it when you read out loud. But it’s certainly true for all the other elements you mentioned too.

  6. Laura Lee Perkins

    Editing is critical. Remember, Stephen King cuts 50% of his story during the first edit. And I’ve heard many best-selling authors say that each book requires seven edits. I enjoy editing because I can really get down into the meat of my message. Editing helps me clarify my intent. And learning to view my own work more clearly is what editing is all about; so each edit is a learning experience. I try to wait until my emotional connection to the story has relaxed before I go back and edit. Just keeps everything cleaner for me.

    1. Alex

      50% is a lot. I would rather spend more time planning the story, and less time editing.

      Each edit is a learning experience; not only about how to edit, but also about how to express yourself better. You could even go as far as saying you learn about yourself, the writer, and yourself, the person.

      You sure know how to make editing look exciting, Laura! 😉

  7. tsi

    Why would you think something as fun as editing would be hard? It’s like watching an only child–your child–grow to adulthood. You adjust things, smooth other things, edit, and read it a lot! I like my stories or I’d not write. If you like someone, you want to be close to them, and I do. Read it thru 4-5 times, then when it’s too familiar, put it away for a while (3 months, perhaps). Go over it, love it with new eyes. Keep steady. Remember to use note and NEVER, ever thow anything away! Put it in a new file/page with page numbers where it came from. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve taken from that junk pile of files and used it in a different story. Mind telling articles rather than showing. 1st draft is always filled with things like that. 2nd and 3rd draft, most are gone, or shifted and written out. Editing? Love it because I’m watching my ‘baby’ grow up. Walk in beauty.

    1. Alex

      Your love for editing makes the process much easier and more enjoyable.

      Get your child to graduate and see it pressed between two hard covers and… uh, now it’s getting too rough, we should stop the metaphor right there…!

  8. Rose Green

    I really, really don’t like editing. It feels too much like work. However, I try to get a lot of the story/characters/etc sorted before I start writing. Of course, stuff still pops up during the writing that I hadn’t thought of, but I let it all wait until the end. For my current WIP, I’ve done a lot of work on the story – mostly expanding it because there were bits missing – and I’m now ready to add it to the current manuscript.

    I also have a number of ‘Beta readers’ who I trust to tell me the truth! It’s interesting to see where their thought processes take my story, and I’ve even been known to make use of their suggestions.

  9. Milli Gilbert

    I’m a bit lazy, so starting with the big changes first is definitely the way to go for me. I don’t want to get all my lines perfect only to realize there was a big plot-hole and I need to cut a bunch of scenes or re-write them or add new ones that change the narrative a bit later on… Editing is already a lot of work. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. (There are parts where it’s fun, like when I’m doing the final read-through before hitting that “publish” button.)
    But I’ve definitely got a process. I’m a plantser, so the first two might be out of order for most. I draft and then make the outline with revision/re-write notes. From there, I work on all the developmental stuff. Once I have perfected as far as I can on my own, I share with my writing group and make fixes based on their comments. I’ll repeat that process as many times as needed until the plot is solid. Then it’s on to the structure and phrasing of stuff, again, as many passes as needed. Then a couple passes for spelling to make sure I’ve got the right their/they’re/there etc, and a couple of grammar passes (I start with a grammar checker, then pass it off to my grammar-inclined friend.

    1. Alex

      You are a very methodical plantser, Milli. Again, it seems like you have found your perfect editing process. Interesting to hear how everybody is happy with a slightly different way of editing.

  10. D S Sistare

    Edit? Noooo! I love to write and, because I can’t do much else, I write for hours. I finish a novel (ten to date) and then just file it away. Every month or so I pull one out, read it, make adjustments, and refile it.

    That was my practice because I once had a run in with an editor after a short true story was purchased. I finally said, “I gave you the idea. Now you write the story.” True short stories are my bread and butter. Fiction novels are my heart. I was not about to let anyone chop up my heart.

    My practice suddenly changed when someone found my stash and passed it around. I was finally convinced to consider publishing, at least to test the waters.

    As my first fiction novel is about to hit the market, I am reminded of why it remained hidden. I have been out of school for over fifty years and I am convinced that all the grammar rules have changed. Although I know that I need to do it, I hate to edit! I am considering having an English major at our local university edit for me.

  11. Deborah

    Excellent article, Alex.

    I was recently editing a chapter and wanted to follow my current editing schedule. But I was rewriting whole passages at a time and wondering why, when my notes said to read through and check the spelling. Then I read this article and realized that my schedule was the problem, not me. Developmental editing is essential. Even though I don’t write a letter until I have a clear plan ahead of me, editing orders matter. Thanks for the advice!

    1. Alex

      Good to hear that the article helped you to solve a problem. Step by step, that’s a good game plan. And when we are completely happy with our story, only then is it time to move on to the next stage. Cheers!

  12. Valeria

    The biggest problem I face while editing my own work is cutting out bits that I “think” are brilliant but know do not contribute anything to the story.

    In fact, the first time I did it, the experience was more than agonizing. I wanted to go back and undo the edits.

    While the experience hasn’t gotten any better since then, I find it easier to make the cuts now. The trick (at least for me) is to ask myself one question – “Is this part aligned with the focus of the story or chapter or concept?” If the answer is no, I make the cut regardless of how badly I want to keep the part.

    1. Alex

      I know what you mean, Valeria. In such instances, we have to remind ourselves that it’s about us making the story great, and not about the story making us (look) great.

      It’s a little consolation for me when I tell myself “Maybe you can use it, or at least fragments of it, in another story, somewhere, somehow (in a far away place).”

      1. Chris

        Yes, Alex… you say “Maybe you can use it, or at least fragments of it, in another story, somewhere, somehow (in a far away place).”

        That’s very true, even with a little editing to suit different characters or scenes, particularly if you write a series set in a location, and using regular characters.

        Sometimes, though, it’s worth considering the bigger picture (if it’s only a small scene or detail).

        If like me you write series novels, these almost irrelevant snippets can be used as pointers to either earlier books in the series that a new reader might not have read… or indeed to the next book.

        I’ve even occasionally replaced excised text into a MS before it’s published, when I’ve already written the next book, or am in the process of doing so, because I’ve realised how it sets up the next story nicely. (In another instance, I used a bit part walk on character, who had no dialogue or even description other than being given a name and being mentioned as ‘mother’ to someone, and who only opens a front door, in one novel, to become the central character in the sequel.)

        1. Alex

          Hey Chris, I can only imagine the possibilities you have when writing a series. Looks like you put the pieces of the puzzle together in all kind of ways, plus you make good use of the left over pieces… It’s like you are constantly inspiring yourself. And as an author, that’s a good ability to have!

          1. Chris

            Four and a half years on from this dialogue, I can provide an interesting twist.

            My original publisher decided to close the publishing side of his business, releasing all files and cover designs etc. to ‘his’ authors for them to take elsewhere or self publish.
            My editor was also an author with the same publisher, and had published work previously himself (both his own, and others), so he decided to set up his own new publishing business (http://selfishgenie.com/index.html). He agreed to take on my novels (many of which he’d edited originally, either for the publisher, or for me directly – we’d both done editing work for our publisher before. I’d edited at least one of ‘my’ editors books before the publisher brokered a direct arrangement between us to cut out the middle man).

            I decided to take the opportunity to re-visit my earlier books with the benefits of a few years writing under my belt. In one case (my first novel in the series), I’d always wondered if it was too long and complex with its multiple plot threads. He agreed, so I suggested splitting it by removing one thread to use in a sequel. The book already had a sequel, so this new book would slot in between them to become part two of a trilogy.

            The excised plot thread didn’t have enough substance to be a complete novel on its own, but as a sub plot we felt it had merit, so a parallel related main plot was woven into it to give us a complete new book as part two of the ‘new’ trilogy. The twist in the tail of book one became the ending of book two, while the ‘come uppance’ of the other bad guy from book one still remained in book one.

            But what of the original ‘sequel’?… It too had flaws, which we’ve dealt with, and it’s at present awaiting publication to follow parts one and two (now published) – all three books work as single reads, though reading out of order reveals spoilers.
            Subsequent books in the series will be re-published to follow chronologically with better marketing this time. There shouldn’t be any plot credibility issues as these were already edited by the new publisher (he’s hot on credibility… Like me, he believes that if you get the facts right, the reader will believe the fiction).

            We still edit each other’s new work too… he’s got the latest book at present, ready to follow the other eight books in the series (as well as a two short stories ‘freebie’ intro to the series which can be downloaded from the website).

      2. William Timothy Murray

        “Maybe you can use it, or at least fragments of it, in another story, somewhere, somehow (in a far away place).”

        I’ve published a five-volume story, plus two companion books. A very long work, but my notes and drafts are even longer, and those notes include material that I never used or got cut from the main story. However, I’ve been able to repackage some of that material into short background stories, character descriptions, or vignettes to give away as freebies to my newsletter subscribers.

        I try not to “over edit” these offerings. With each offering, I include a note or preface to say that it is essentially in “unfinished draft form,” relatively unpolished, and essentially unedited. I also tell readers that the story or vignette might change at any moment because I still might make revisions. The roughness gives my readers a glimpse not only into the background of a story or character, but a glimpse “behind the curtain” at my writing process and style. This has been a great way to make use of those notes and to share ideas and engage with readers.

        The results have been pretty awesome in terms of reader engagement. So I’d definitely have to say that it is okay to throw out passages from stories. But those deleted passages might still have value, so it would be silly to throw them away!

        1. Alex

          That’s a GREAT use case, William! Like a bonus “Making of” for a movie DVD.

          As a blogger, I can say that I’m constantly looking for snippets and bonus materials, e.g. for content upgrades like in this post, or for my upcoming video course. It’s so useful to have something at hand that not only fits perfectly, but also isn’t much work for you to produce – plus, in your case, it’s something authentic directly from the author. No wonder readers love it.

  13. George in Quito

    This post reminds me of a quote from Michael Moorcock back in the 60s. He described how he wrote his novels: he began with the first word and wrote straight through to the last. Nothing was changed. The writing always took 90 days.

    My reaction was something like, “Are you serious?!?!” Well it was cruder. But I always kept that in my mental file folder, maybe hoping I could magically learn how to do that. Yeah, I was jealous.

    1. Alex

      Yeah, sounds like the land of milk and honey. But if somebody does that, the quality of the writing better be up to par.

      Personally, I have a hard time believing anybody can write and publish like that. At the very least, you would have to slightly adopt some phrases.

    2. Chris

      Maybe Moorcock didn’t go back into his MS, but I’ll bet his publisher’s editor did, if only to check the work for spelling, grammar, and for typos… besides, it would need the layout, and the pagination, sorting out before typesetting back then (no computerised formatting and typesetting in those days).

      Even today, my publisher still has to deal with things like the ‘widows and orphans’, left and right page offsets, justification, chapter breaks, and whatever else he does to prepare a book which is already out as an e-book edition, for its publication in print form. It’s at this point that any missed typos, spotted by eagle eyed e-book readers, can be corrected while it’s still cheap and easy to do so.

  14. Rachel Thompson

    If story structure is understood and applied there are less problems requiring deep editing. Editing doesn’t bother me. I simply decide to put on a different hat. Every aspect of writing has it’s rewards so why not embrace the entire thing? Fear of editing is more like the fear of actually understanding how story must work to succeed. Don’t just kill your darlings, back up and run them over a few more times.

  15. red

    Yes! I love to edit. As much as I love to create, editing is much more fun. Women have a saying, nine minutes of fun, his work’s all done. Nine months of hell, hers is just begun. Not me. I’m a good daddy and hung in there will all of them. I was raised by imperfect people who did their level best for me and my sibs, and did my best for the kids. Same with writing. This (1st draft) is my newborn and I’d kill to protect him. But, understanding just how imperfect I am means I have to watch for that in the kid. 2nd draft, improvements, like teaching the baby to eat. Messy, very messy, but you look on the bright side. this is LIFE. You brought him intro a cold, cruel world and have to raise him right. Some parts are worse than messy. Much is boring, demanding, and even unto despair, but eventually, you see the kid off to college (publishers). Some take longer than others. At every point, if the story is perfect, can’t get better, put it away for a few months. Enjoy things, write something new. Then go back and read it again. Editing is mechanics, creative mechanics. Never throw away anything, but save in a separate file, just in case. walk in beauty! WRITE!

      1. red

        Thank you! Editing used to be a good profession, but then too many manuscripts began to make the tequila look enticing. Always do the best you can all by yourself. Knowledge pays to have knowledge.

  16. Barbara

    My biggest editing problem was learning HOW to edit. I tinkered instead of editing, not knowing what to do or how to do it. Then I found Fictionary and then Jessica Brody’s level down editing and of course everything you had sent out has added to that. Fictionary gave me a framework for my editing. The Brody method gave me more about what I actually need to be looking at, and you check list made it so that I made sure I had all the things in their proper places ready for that polishing. Before, I was polishing before I knew I had a ton of plot holes and no real conflict, not goal, no reason for the story.

    Thank you for all the things you put out that are so helpful.

  17. red

    Thank you for this! But, I love to edit. To read and revise and cut or paste (I never toss things cut out, but save them in the off chance they’ll work in a different part of the story, or a new story). 1st draft, put it all in because it’s notes as well as story. 2nd draft, a cut down version of notes go in their own file. By the 3rd draft, any journalism is being reworked or cut. After that, story get tucked away for a few months, then is revisited, read, enjoyed, and parked for months more. Sometime, a year or so. As I love SF and Historical, and some Horror, this is not a problem. Niio!

    1. Alex

      Your writing process is actually extremely similar to mine. Same editing philosophy.

      I should have given the post a bit more of a positive attitude towards editing, is what I´m thinking now. Editing is not that bad after all, and what I personally like about it – it costs a lot less effort and brain power than writing the first draft because not much creativity is needed anymore. In other words, trimming the hedge a little costs a lot less effort than nurturing it and making it grow.

  18. Robin Joy Wirth

    admittedly I am a bit pervy, but not because I like editing (more likely that’s why I end up editing steamy romance novels, really…) What I love about editing, and I’m going to say on my own stuff since that’s what you’re really talking about here, is that you know it will ensure your reader isn’t pulled out of their suspension of disbelief because if some blunder you left in there. That would totally suck for them and for you when they stop buying your work. I think of editing as part of the writing process, and therefore love it just as much. The one thing I dislike is going in and realizing I had a logic error early on that could affect the whole story, and that’s why I tend to write a chapter or two, go read it and see if something rotten is in there that needs fixed, then rinse and repeat from there rather than throwing down the whole book first. I’ve found it actually saves me from having to work so hard on editing later and it’s more like a proofread by the time I do a final look. I know everybody says “don’t do that” but it has vastly improved the editing process as far as I’m concerned

  19. Barbara Mealer

    No matter what you write, you need to edit. It’s like cleaning the house–it’s something have to do, so learn to do it well.
    That means tearing that book apart to find holes and things you left out or put in that aren’t needed. It means throwing away that character that is taking up space, seeing that you have all the parts in the correct places and that everything flows and makes sense.
    I’d advise working with a developmental editor to learn your weaknesses, ask questions to learn how to do that initial edit at least once. If you can’t afford one, then get a few readers who like to read in your genre and have them give you feedback on the weak areas, and what worked or didn’t work for them from settings to characters, to action, story and premise.
    Then rewrite, repeat, and rewrite again. When it comes back with minor changes then it’s time to polish. Scenes first then paragraphs and then sentence by sentence and words. When you finally get it to sound like you want and you can’t polish any more, hire a copy editor. They will find all the things you didn’t see. Most charge $1200 for a 100K word book. When you get that back, very carefully make the changes. Check for spelling, punctuation, and other errors with at least a week between run throughs for proofreading. On the last, start from the back and go through it paragraph by paragraph to catch those errors.
    When done, you are ready to publish.
    I copied this post simply because it will remind me of why I’m doing all these edits. I want the best work I can do out there.

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