A Newbie’s Guide to Self-Editing a Novel

This month, I wrote “the end” on the second book in The Uprising series. With beta-reader feedback returned for book 1, it’s time for me to dive back into editing.

After I wrote the first book, I did a pretty quick job of my first editing pass. While I did cut 10,000 words, I still felt as though I did a haphazard job and had little idea what I was doing. But now I have two things I didn’t have before:

Reader feedback AND a systematic approach.

Writing is re-writing and completing the first draft is only the first step. It takes time to reexamine and reshape your story, but all of that effort will continuously mold your draft into a polished novel.

Let’s take a look at the best ways to tackle the behemoth that is the editing process.

Let the draft rest

Try to put away your manuscript for a bit––a couple weeks, a month, multiple months… it can vary based on your deadline, but what is important is to give yourself a break from the story.

This serves two purposes:

  1. It distances you from the story and allows you to view it again with a fresh perspective.
  2. It gives your time to refuel and regain your enthusiasm for your story. 

Come up with an organized plan of attack

Editing, like writing, is unique to every writer, because everyone’s process is different. However, when you are embarking on your editing journey, keep in mind a few of these considerations:

  • What is your timeline? If you have a specific deadline, look at all the steps you anticipate needing to edit your manuscript. Create an editing outline by breaking down your timeline into achievable check points.
  • What are the major issues? Identify the major problems in your story. This could be plot holes, inconsistencies, character arcs (or lack thereof). If you can’t identify any issues, hand it over to beta readers, I’m sure they will find a thing or two to tweak.
  • Do you have your materials ready? Obviously, this includes a completed manuscript. But a few additional resources I like to have on hand are my favorite writing craft books, my story outline, my editing outline, an editing checklist, and my book bible.

Types of Editing

In the world of fiction writing, editing comes in a few different shapes and sizes, and not one size fits all. Some editing terms mean the same thing. Heck, some writers just stick with the word “revisions” and call it a day.

But there are developmental edits, structural edits, content edits, proofreading, copy edits, line edits, circle edits, squiggle edits… okay, I made up the last two. My point being, editing is a part of writing that tends to have a lot of jargon thrown at it, so I wanted to make things simpler.

There are two types…
Big picture edits

These are the developmental and content fixes. It’s when writers tackle the structural issues of the narrative. It’s when the author reevaluates their characters, world building, plot progression, and the goals and outcomes of each scene. And it is done in order to gauge whether or not those details are being optimized within the story.

Little picture edits

These edits look at a snapshot (often a single line by line). This editing includes all the tedious details of word choice, voice, tense, sentence structure, and grammar. This is where writers will examine their prose closely and polish each word, leaving no period out of place.

Both types of editing are important to tackle. If you’re considering hiring a professional editor, you’ll have to decide if you want them to examine the big or the little picture.

One important thing to remember is: big picture edits should always come first. Save yourself the time and headache by nailing down your story first, then polishing up your language.

Additional Considerations for Editing

Print off your Manuscript

Looking at your writing in a different format gives your eyes something new––some fresh perspective. Not only is it easier to spot grammar mistakes and sentence errors, but it also allows you to write editing notes directly on the page––and do write yourself plenty of notes.

It’s recommended to start your editing process by reading the manuscript through the eyes of a reader, not the writer. As you do, jot down areas that stand out to you from that perspective as a reader––it will help you identify the major fixes needed.

Read it out loud

Nothing catches a writing mistake quite like reading it out loud. I even read all of my blog posts out loud prior to publishing them.

Reading out loud can be done at any stage of writing or editing, but I think it works best toward the end. If you think you have a manuscript ready and polished, read it out loud. You might find a few more things to adjust.

Knowing when to stop editing

Most manuscripts will go through multiple editing passes. Sometimes writers will get so caught up in making changes and fixing language that they forget to let go.

Whether self imposed or not, deadlines help. Having a specific timeline to complete your manuscript helps to step away and stop making changes. It also helps to have a plan for the novel…whether that is a goal to send to an editor, to self publish, or to query to agents.

Editing is important, but moving on is important too. Get your manuscript polished to a point where you believe you have fixed your major problems and cleaned up your prose, but then it is time to let it go. You have another book to write.

Thank you for reading. I will be posting guides to help approach big picture editing and little picture editing as well as a downloadable checklist. I hope you found this information helpful and don’t hesitate to reach out with any content you’d like to see in the future.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Newbie to Novelist Newsletter. The first monthly edition will be released in February.

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