Editing: How I Do It

writing-1209121_640I’ve been spending this year editing my novel. Again. So far, I’ve been writing and re-writing my novel for 18 months. Currently, I’m on the fourth major rewrite, which should be the last. By the time I reach the two year mark in September, I should be almost there.

Of that 18 months, I spent the first six months writing the first draft, and since then I’ve been getting critiques on my work, and learning how to write. And by learning how to write, I mean learning to write words so that it sounds like a real novel that a writer wrote. One with realistic dialogue, meaningful characters, places you can visualise and a plot you want to read more of. Am I there yet? I’m getting there, and it’s the kind of thing one can always improve at.

Editing is hard work. You give your friends beautiful novel chapters, and they come back to you with questions and scrawls and notes. (I do this using Scribophile). When they’ve been through the entire novel, you have a messy pile of annotated chapters, notes from messages and forum threads, and a million ideas bouncing around in your head.

It feels like an enormous jigsaw. You know that if you can just get the pieces in the right order, an amazing picture will jump out at you, but there’s a lot of work before you get there.

So, how to deal with that? I tend to fall back on spreadsheets. I have a large spreadsheet with a row for every chapter, and various columns for different types of notes and changes. I then have an individual Word document for every chapter.

I go through all my notes and critiques, writing down all the big picture changes on the spreadsheet, and annotating each Word chapter with the small scale stuff.  When I have all my notes in coherent form, I go through the Word document and make changes accordingly. Voila, a new chapter to replace the old, which I then copy onto a master document.

It can feel like a really intimidating task when you have a huge novel. I find the best way to deal with that is to think only about the current chapter. One chapter at a time. Slowly but surely, you make your way through the pile. And once in a while, allow yourself to think how good you’ll feel when you reach the end!

Until … you hand it out for more feedback … and the whole thing starts again …


  1. I know how hard you’ve been working on editing and it gets a lot harder at the end when you’ve just seen it SO MANY times and you can’t think straight and you’re not sure if you’re missing things because it’s all blurring together.

    And then you finish what you hope is your last edit and next thing you know you’re going over it one last time to verify it’s good(or posting it for one more crit pass) and OH MY GOSH THERE’S MORE TO FIX.

    Lol, yeah, that’s me right now. I’ve got changes on almost every page. I’m going to need another notebook. Cut this, change that, swap this line around, reword this. *slams head on bed*

    But you’ll get there! The end is close!

    1. magicwriter

      Yeah, it’s frustrating isn’t it! The temptation to rush is hard to overcome…. but we’ll get there 😀 It is getting to the stage where I’m forgetting who did what in each version, and what scenes I’ve cut now. Did Elina buy a glow globe? Oh, no, that was the second draft!

  2. I personally have decided to start completely over from scratch. My first draft was written in 2009, and I’ve learned a lot about craft since then, so I’ve always considered that draft unusable. It’s where I got the bones of my characters and story down. I started writing an entirely new draft at the end of last year, posting the chapters to Scrib as I went along, and the feedback on those first 13 chapters showed me I had even more about craft to learn, and it made me question the entire structure of my story and the voice of my main character. There was something real and so HIM about him in my first draft, and that likeability was lost in the second. Now I want to scrap it all again, and start a third draft from blank page once more.

    But the whole process is so dang frustrating I need time from it. And I’m going to read some craft books and books that have the same style or a similar story line to Janus, so I can get a sense of what others have done right.

    Thanks for sharing your process. I’m glad to hear you at least have a good enough draft to work chapter by chapter and not have to start completely over like I feel I need to do with mine.

    1. magicwriter

      I chopped a lot off the beginning at one point, and had to completely rewrite some chapters where a character decided they wanted to go on a journey they didn’t go on to start with. I didn’t have much idea of story structure on the first draft and that took some sorting out.

      I’ve kept all my old drafts though, in case I need to reinstate anything!

      Perhaps your third draft will combine the voice of the first with the craft you learned for the second 🙂

  3. “You give your friends beautiful novel chapters, and they come back to you with questions and scrawls and notes.” –such a perfect way to describe the feeling of posting a revised chapter and getting more feedback! It’s (almost) always helpful feedback, though, so worth having someone point out the scuff marks on the diamonds so they’re well-polished in the end. 🙂

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