Writing & Blogging

How To Edit Your Novel without Hating Your Life

So you’ve finished the first draft of your book or are close to it. What do you do once you get to that point? It’s time for that terrible and amazing process: editing your novel. I say terrible because going through and reading your own writing can be excruciating. Yes, I’m sure that you wrote some great things, but we all know that most of a first draft is not very good because you just need to get the words out. But I also call it amazing because when editing you take that not-great words, storylines, development, and more and make it wonderful. This is your opportunity to do that!

So how do you go about it? If you don’t have any direction, it can be a horrific process that can – as you probably figured out from the title of this post – make you hate your life and question your decision to write a book in the first place. You need to know what to look for and how to go about changing what needs to be changed. I’m not an expert in this, so I have a couple of tips from me, but then I’ve pulled together a whole bunch of resources from people who are experts. I’ll be using these tips as I edit TLM!

For the record, I do think all books should go through a professional editor. I didn’t do that with Aureole and I regret it (it did go through other people, just no professional editors). These tips are about the editing you do before it goes to a professional.

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You've written a first draft. Awesome! What now? Before you send it to a professional editor, you should put it through your own edits. But how do you do that? Here are tips and resources to help you edit your novel without hating your life.

Tips in General for Editing Your Novel

Take a break – I strongly advise taking a step back and not immediately going into editing. If you do, you will have a specific view of your book already in mind instead of looking at it with a clear(er) mind.

Print it out – Whenever I do anything editing of any kind (for school or for my novel), I always print it out and edit it by hand. This is good for catching grammar and spelling issues, since you see what should be there and not necessarily what is there when you read it on the screen. But it’s also good for working through rearranging scenes, paragraphs, or sentences because you can draw lines and write in changes without deleting text.

Be ruthless – This is something I really struggle with. You need to cut out things that need to go and change things that need to be changed. I’m very emotionally vested in my books, so it’s hard for me to make the big changes. But I know that they need to happen, so I have to remind myself to be ruthless.

Now that you've finished your first draft, it's time to edit your novel. I've pulled together resources from people who are experts in editing so you can edit your novel to the best of your ability.

Online Resources To Help

10 Things To Do Before Editing Your First Draft (Well Storied) – This is pretty self-explanatory, but they’re all really good tips.

Top 4 Ways To Edit Your Own Writing (Sagan Morrow) – Awesome tips! These are general tips and not very specific, but they’re good places to start.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How To Be Your Own Critic (Jenny Bravo Books) – On the other hand, these are more specific. My favorite one (and one that I need to remember as I edit TLM) is, “Don’t send your work to an editor until it’s practically glowing.” Basically, make sure it’s as amazing as you can make it first. This is also important since it can probably save you money and time.

How To Edit Your Novel: 8 Simple Steps (Now Novel) – The tips here are even more specific. And it includes a free guide to editing your novel! If you can’t or don’t want to spend money on a book or other resources, I really suggest you get it.

The Difference between Editing & Revising (Well Storied) – Unlike the other posts mentioned, this isn’t one that gives you instructions on how to edit. Instead, it has a list of things that you need to look for when editing and revising, as well as an explanation on what the difference is.

Manuscript Editing: How To Cut Words When Your Novel’s Too Long (Now Novel) – If you have the problem of having a way too long draft (like, at least 120,000 words, unless it’s all absolutely necessary), these tips will help you decide what needs to go.

How To Prepare Your Book for an Editor (Sagan Morrow) – These are great tips for once you’ve made all the edits you want or feel you need to and are about to send your manuscript to an editor. It’s not just about doing your own editing; it’s about thinking about what you want your book to look like at the end of the process.

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Books To Help

Structuring Your Novel – This is an awesome book that I own and love. The last third or so is about editing, and it has completely changed how I think about the editing process.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – I have this book on my wish list and it will be going on my Christmas list. Amazon says, “In this completely revised and updated second edition, Renni Browne and Dave King teach you, the writer, how to apply the editing techniques they have developed to your own work. Chapters on dialogue, exposition, point of view, interior monologue, and other techniques take you through the same processes an expert editor would go through to perfect your manuscript. Each point is illustrated with examples, many drawn from the hundreds of books Browne and King have edited.”

Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps To Clear Prose Publishers and Agents Crave – The description on Amazon says, “Veteran editor Don McNair lays out an easy-to-follow and systematic method for clearing up foggy writing–writing that’s full of extra, misused, and overused words–in this guide to producing sparkling copy that attracts readers, agents, editors, and sales.”

Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft – This is another one that I wouldn’t mind having! Amazon says, “Award-winning author Janice Hardy (and founder of the popular writing site, Fiction University) takes you step-by-step through the novel revision process. She’ll show you how to analyze your draft, spot any problems or weak areas, and how to fix those problems.”

Like this post? Check out these posts, and the writing category at large:

7 Amazing Writing Bloggers To Follow To Help Improve Your Writing, 7 Questions To Help You Prep for NaNoWriMo, Writing a Novel: My Creative Process

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  • Cecilia Wood

    Thanks for sharing this post – I’ll definitely use it as a reference! I wrote a novel last year during National Novel Writing Month and I keep putting off editing… it is so daunting. Hopefully this fall I can finally get really started on the revision process.

    xoxo, Cecilia // sunnysidececilia.com