The Editing Process: 14 Steps on How to Edit Your Novel

If you have a rough draft of a novel, but don’t know what to do now, here are some tips about editing that might help you get started. This isn’t the official way you should edit your story (there is no official way), but the way I do it, and a few of my friends, that has seemed to work for us.

1. Leave your manuscript alone for at least a month.
The longer you leave your manuscript alone, the longer it will stew in your head, and you’ll get all these great ideas of what to change or add or subtract. Plus, it’s good to just leave it be for a while so that you can get a well-deserved break. You just wrote a whole novel! You need the break.

2. Read through your story and write down the big things to change.
When you read through your whole story two things happen: you hate some parts, and you love some parts. But regardless, reading the whole story reminds you of what you’ve written, and knowing what happens in the end, you can know what to change. (While writing the story, you probably changed several things, so it might be a bit confusing at this point. But no worries.)

3. Add/subtract/change the big things.
This part usually requires more writing, so if you’re feeling writing-deprived, this will get you back into the groove.

4. Read through your story for flow now that you’ve added/subtracted/changed some things.
Of course if you’ve changed a lot of the big things, the flow is undoubtedly interrupted. So, you need to work on that a bit.

5. a. Leave your manuscript alone for a few weeks.
Another break. You’ve done some hard work. You will probably welcome it; just don’t let the break last too long or you’ll never finish your story.
b. OR have someone read through your story and tell you the things you need to change.
If you’re worried about not wanting to finish your story, or maybe you’re just plain tired of it, option two might be a better fit for you. Instead of taking a l-o-n-g break, try having a friend or family member who will give you honest critique read through it. That way, you are now accountable, and someone out there wants you to finish the story.

6. Read through your story and write down things you need to change, while, perhaps, doing some line-editing.
This is almost the same as Step #2, except for the fact that you can now line-edit. Line-editing is basically looking for typos, lack of description (or maybe too much), dialogue errors, grammatical errors, etc. I wouldn’t do too much of this yet since your story still isn’t quite done yet, and you’re bound to change a lot still.

7. Add/subtract/change the things that need it.
The same as Step #3.

8. Read through your story for flow.
The same as Step #4. Except this time, you can start line-editing some more, too.

9. Start line-editing.
Now comes the nitty-gritty stuff. It might be good for you to look online or read through books so you can compile a list of questions: Does it flow well? Are the characters in character? Does the dialogue sound cheesy? Are my middles too long? My endings too short? etc. You need to look for everything, every aspect, every detail, and make sure it is sound. No plot holes, no loose endings, no out-of-characterization, nothing.

10. Line-edit some more.
Line-editing is a hard and long process, but it is so worth it in the end. Keep on going; you’re almost there.

11. Ask someone to read through your story.
It can be the same person who did it earlier (if you took that step), or a totally new person. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be someone who will give you really detailed critique. Just someone who will say honestly, without being brutal: “I liked this story for this reason” or “I didn’t like this story for this reason” or “I felt like this story . . .” or “Overall, this story . . .” and so on.

12. Ask several more people to read through your story.
At this point, it might be good to join a writers group. Writers groups contain writers, obviously. Writers who are just like you. They know what to look for, and I bet you they will give you some of the best critique ever. If you don’t have a writers group near you, create one. If you don’t want to join a writers group, you can share your stories online (though beware: plagiarizing/stealing may happen; enter at your own risk), or just ask family and friends.

13. Change whatever needs to be changed, per their critique (if you feel their critique is valuable, that is).
This is a must: If someone tells you to change something but that isn’t what you want the story to do, don’t do it. You are the author. You command the characters and the plot and the story. If there is ever anything that someone tells you to change but you don’t want to because of this and that, don’t do it. This is your story. Make it how you want it. On the other hand, don’t just say you don’t want to change something because you’re lazy or because you really like that part. You know what they say: Kill your darlings. Yes, it hurts, but you can always save it for a later time. Don’t let your pride get in the way of what you honestly need to change.

14. Read through your story as many times as you need to until you feel it is ready.
By this time, you’ve gone through hundreds of drafts of your story. Now, it’s time to go through a few hundred more. Read, read, read, change, change, change, whatever you need to do. Until you feel you are ready. Only then should you, if you want to, send for an agent, or official editor, or publisher. Never tell yourself you’re ready if you’re not. If you don’t feel you’re ready, neither will the agent/editor/publisher.

So, what do you think? Are you ready to start editing? Or is this so daunting that you don’t even want to try? I’m in the editing stage, and I feel so intimidated that I’m being rather lazy. But you just have to get your nerve up, and do it. Face your fears. You’ll find that afterwards, you’re glad that you did it. Believe me, I’d know.

Happy writing, and, of course, happy editing!

~ J. Dominique


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