The time has finally come to edit your novel. Are you excited? Are you dreading it? Not sure where to start? Not sure it’s even necessary since you had spell-check on as you wrote?
While editing a 150,000+ word manuscript can seem daunting and maybe even redundant, it’s an unavoidable part of the writing process. Without editing, your novel is half-baked, and you don’t want to pull it out of the oven until it’s ready for consumption. Here are 11 essential tips on how to improve your editing process and create a stronger story.
1. Lower Expectations With the First Draft
When you sit down to edit, it’s possible that your work will be utter trash. I say that with empathy and humility. No first draft is Pulitzer Prize-worthy. The point of the first draft is to get your thoughts on paper and out of your skull. Don’t cringe when reading your first draft. Remember that its purpose is to give you all the tools necessary to shape your actual story.
2. Take a Long Break
You just finished writing your novel and are scrolling back up to page one to begin your first round of edits. Nope. Not yet. You’re too close to the content. You’re still in the same mindset that you were when you initially wrote the story. To find some level of objectivity, step away for at least two weeks before editing your novel. When you return, you’ll have a renewed perspective.
3. Print Off Your Manuscript
Most of us use computers to compose. But when it comes to editing, you may find it easier to print off your draft and manually mark it up with a red pen. While you can easily edit on your computer, the tactile experience of manually editing can inspire a different way of thinking. You will eventually go back to your computer to execute the edits, but there’s a definite difference between sitting at a computer desk to make edits and sitting in a cozy chair.
With the former, you’ll feel more rushed, which can often lead to frustration in the writing process. But with the latter, you’re more likely to take your time and enjoy the re-reading process.
4. Re-Read It As a Whole
You may be tempted to dive into correction mode as soon as you start the editing process. But it’s better to read through your novel once without making any edits. Just make notes. Use a notebook to record any thoughts as you read. This will allow you to get a big-picture view of your novel, including the recurring themes, the motifs, the pacing, the plotting, and much more.
It’s important to see, and read, your novel as a whole. If you focus only on the small details, you won’t see the forest for the trees, and you need to see both.
5. Read Your Novel Aloud
While editing your manuscript, don’t just read it silently. Read it aloud to yourself. This is another way to check for pacing, but it can also help to identify awkward phrasing, repetitive words, and filler content. These are words and phrases that your brain is so familiar with that it automatically self-corrects before you consciously realize what is happening. This is why it’s easy to overlook mistakes when reading silently. However, when reading aloud to yourself, you’ll catch what you’d normally miss.
6. Focus on Your Word Choice
Every word you choose in your novel matters. Even though you’re working with somewhere between 150,000 to 200,000 words, you still don’t have the license to ramble or repeat yourself. Why? The way you tell the story—especially the words you use to tell it—becomes part of the experience.
When stuck between two words, always go with the simpler of the two. The average, 21st-century reader doesn't possess the vocabulary of yore. In fact, some folks don't even know what “of yore” means. And that’s okay. The point is to always go for clarity over poetry when it comes to storytelling. Your readers will thank you.
7. Don't Copyedit
The first round of edits is purely developmental. Focus on the structure. Examine the characters who move the story forward, the scenes, the pacing, the themes, and the big picture. Don’t get lost in making word choice adjustments—not at first. That will come during the second round of edits after you’re happy with the story. After all, what good will it be to correct punctuation or grammar if you end up deleting the entire chapter in the final edit?
Here’s the mantra: Develop first, proofread last.
8. Re-Structure Your Chapters
Begin and end chapters with intrigue. At the start of the chapter, grab the reader. At the end of the chapter, push the reader off the cliff. But don’t let them fall. Grab them again. And so the cycle continues. Readers love to take a roller-coaster ride into the unknown.
To ensure that your story achieves the necessary jolts of excitement, examine your chapter structure. Are you starting at the right place? Are you ending at the right moment? Can you delete sections of your chapter to improve pacing?
Do the following to keep your reader on their toes:
Get rid of throat-clearing at the start of your chapters. There’s no need to recap what the reader can simply go back and re-read.
Enter the scene at the last moment. You don’t need to cover every beat of conversation between the characters. Only focus on what will move the story forward.
End each chapter with a tone of uncertainty that makes your reader say to themselves, “I’ll just read one more page.”
9. Understand Your Why
Throughout the editing process, always remember your why. Why did you write this story? What experience do you want the reader to have while exploring your crafted world? What should the reader learn or reflect on as a result of reading your book?
The answers to the above questions will help you edit better because you’ll know the goal behind your storytelling.
10. Partner With an Editing Service
Self-editing is only the beginning of the editing process. While self-editing can help you begin to identify glaring errors in your prose and unexplored opportunities that exist within your story, self-editing is also limited. It’s impossible to be truly objective in your storytelling. But without objectivity, you won’t know if your story meets your goals and resonates with your reader.
This is where a professional editor comes in. A professional editor understands what the reader expects as well as the type of story you’re hoping to tell. Your editor can help you find the true heart of your story.
When working with an editor, remember not to take the critique personally. You have the same goal: Both you and your editor want you to tell the best story possible.
11. Know When to Quit
The editing process can become a black hole. Edit to the point where you feel you’ve accomplished your biggest storytelling goals (i.e. explored a theme, transported a reader to a different time or place, or successfully shined a light on a previously untold story). Editing can be a never-ending process unless you force yourself to stop at some point. Even years later, when you return to your book, you’ll likely discover different elements you could’ve/ would’ve/ should’ve changed.
Give yourself permission to get to “good enough.”
Editing is an essential part of the writing process. But editing doesn’t need to be painful or intimidating. Keep the above tips in mind when you begin editing your story.