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How To Edit Your Book in Three Easy Steps

Updated on March 11, 2015

But First Tell Me This:

How long does it usually take you to edit your novels?

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Why Editing is So Important

Everyone has a different relationship to editing. Some people wonder why they have to edit, when it should clearly be the job of an editor of a publishing house. (The answer is that your manuscript will soon be in competition with thousands of others, and your editing will make a difference. Trust me, that professional editor will still have a job on their hands, even after you've passed your manuscript through the wringer.)

Others get so frustrated with their editing that the manuscript never leaves their computer. Yes, this has happened to me.

The following ideas are designed to help you minimize your editing while making the most of the edits you do make.

Reading
Reading | Source

Editing While You Write

Regardless of what popular wisdom tells us, it is possible--in fact it's necessary--to edit while you write. I'm not telling you to exhaustively edit everything you've written, starting with chapter 1, every time you sit down to write again. That would of course mean that you'd never get very far.

But whenever you sit down to write a new chapter (hopefully, every day), you should first start by reading the work you did the previous day. This will do two things;

  • You'll be able to correct any grammar and syntax errors with a clear eye. Sometimes it can be hard, after we've written several thousand words, to reread them with our fuzzy brain and notice the typos or fatigue-induced mistakes.
  • You'll get back into your narrator's voice. There's nothing worse than beginning to edit your book after having fully finished it and realizing that every few chapters is written with an entirely different voice. Rewriting the entire thing is all that's left to do.

Editing Right After You Write

While a tired brain may make mistakes on syntax that a refreshed brain may catch the morning after, you may also get so caught up in your writing that you drift away from your original plan.

It's crucial that every day after you've finished writing, you check your notes. If you notice any divergences between what you've written and what you had planned to write, change your plan. And make the necessary changes throughout your plan so that the next day, you won't be stuck with another installation that's impossible to write because the previous chapter no longer has anything to do with it.

It's natural to diverge from your notes, as we often think best as we're writing, so don't force yourself to stay loyal to your notes. But if you don't continue to check your notes against your chapters, and make necessary changes, you'll find yourself writing straight into a plot hole. And that's something that will be very difficult to rectify later on.

Reading
Reading | Source

Editing With A Plot Hole

You may be feeling pretty excited at this point because you've just written your last sentence. If you followed the last two pieces of editing advice, you should be, because you probably won't have too much work ahead of you. But if you do happen to find yourself with a plot hole, here's what you can do.

Chances are, you'll probably realize you have a plot hole in the last few chapters. That's when everything has to come together for the climax, so if it's not coming together right, you'll realize you messed up your plot.

Rather than go back and start editing your previous chapters, edit your notes. Click on the link to the right and find out how to plan a novel. Use this to remember your main plot points, and decide what needs to change so that your resolution makes sense. Make a note of which chapters you will edit so that they will mention key points.

I faced this problem recently as I was finishing my last novel. I realized that there was a basic problem in the core of my novel. Initially I wondere if I shouldn't just scrap my book. But then I realized that just by adding a few key points to three of my chapters, and deleting a few contradicting things, I could resolve my plot issue. Smart editing and planning can fix any plot hole!

Just make sure you don't try to fix your plot hole while you're writing. This could just turn your story into a bigger, more confusing mess. It's better to wait until you see the whole picture.


Reading
Reading | Source

Two Weeks Later Edit

After two weeks, you can go back and read the novel with a fresh perspective. Focus on plot, language, and syntax, although hopefully, most of your syntax was fixed in your next-day reads. This is the point where you should be wondering if you'd be comfortable showing this to others. If not, it still needs work. Don't get lost in the edits or you'll lose that fresh perspective. If it's just line edits, go ahead and fix them. But if you see that the work is monumental, make a list of the editing needed before you dive in in a more organized manner.

Showing Your Friends, Family, and Writing Group

Once you're confident of your editing, you should show your friends, family, and writing group if you have one. Basically, show anyone who will accept to be shown. Of course friends and family may not be altogether objective, but they're a start. Personally, my family will definitely tell me what needs working on! While my friends may not be as harsh with me, it's also nice to get a boost. And even if you show something to someone who is always positive, their different variations of positive can clue you in to what they really think.

Getting that different opinion is crucial before you get ready to send your manuscript to an agent.

Proofread One Last Time

Now that you're nearly there, it's important to do one last, annoying, and expensive thing: proofread on paper.

Print out your entire manuscript and read it aloud. There is no way that you won't catch every single grammatic error if you hear your voice and if you're reading paper rather than the screen.

Query Agents or Self-Publish

Good luck! Let me know how it goes :)

Now Tell Me This:

Will you be using this editing advice?

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    • profile image

      TheBizWhiz 2 years ago

      This is awesome advice! Thank you for writing this

    • Joyette  Fabien profile image

      Joyette Fabien 3 years ago from Dominica

      Good job BessieBooks! I agree with you all the way. You must do the step by step edit otherwise the final edit would be intimidating. Also, be it two weeks, three weeks, a month; it is important to let it rest a while and come back to it with a clear mind.

    • BessieBooks profile image
      Author

      BessieBooks 3 years ago

      Happy to hear it, B. Leekly! Let me know how it goes :)

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 3 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      I expect that I will be giving your editing tips a try.

    • BessieBooks profile image
      Author

      BessieBooks 3 years ago

      Thanks JohnMello!

    • JohnMello profile image

      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      Good advice. Especially the "two weeks" edit. Always good to give it a rest and come to it with a fresh perspective. Voted up and interesting :)

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