Friday, January 11, 2013

Beginning to Edit Your Book

In my last post I told you all that you should never finish your book after the first round of edits. However, now that you’ve read a list of “don’ts,” many of you might be wondering what you are supposed to do. There’s also many of you who have patiently waited for me to continue taking you through the process of writing and editing your book. So today I want to answer the following question: What do I do during and after the first edit?

First Edit: Damage Control
Your first round of edits is largely damage control. Here you’re looking for what must be fixed just so the storyline works. If you are serious about learning how to edit your manuscript, get ready to listen.

If you haven’t done this yet, I’d suggest setting your manuscript aside for at least a couple weeks. You'll want to approach your writing with some perspective.

For the first round of edits I tell a lot of writers to actually just reread their manuscript. Keep a notepad and pen at hand for jotting down areas that you need to take notes on. These are sections of text that need to be altered, scenes and information that need to be inserted, inconsistencies that need to be corrected, and so on. Don’t be afraid to fill up that notebook with pages and pages of edits—these are here to help you.

Eventually you’ll finish reading your manuscript through. By this time, if you’ve used the method I suggested, your notebook should be filled with many edits. Read these over.

What do you consider the most important fixes? How about those that appear to be the most fun? These are your highest priorities. You'll want to both fix the book’s biggest problems and  have fun while you’re doing it. The best writing comes when you’re inspired, so if you want to tackle a particular scene that might not be important, don’t deny yourself—do it. 

Not surprisingly, the most important and the most fun fixes are going to be different for different authors. For me, the most important edit is adding in more scenes, since I usually write short first drafts, and the most fun is writing and editing scenes with my main character and her love interest—and no, I’m not a romance novelist. J  

What many of you will notice is that you’ll be able to fix multiple problems at once simply by referring to the notebook and deciding to tackle a couple edits at once. Once you fix these initial problems, move on to the next most important. Perhaps that’s fixing any inconsistencies in the plot, or removing an unnecessary character. 

Dream big. What I mean is, don’t settle for accommodating what you’ve already written. It’s so easy as a writer to not see that box we’ve written ourselves into. Don’t be afraid of making big changes; that’s what these initial drafts are for!

But I Don’t Even Know What I Need to Change
So, right about now, some of you are wondering just how to identify what needs to be changed. Maybe you’ve read over your book, and other than a few minor changes, you didn’t see any problems. The truth—which you may already know—is that even though you didn’t see any problems, there are problems.

There are a couple things you can do to make yourself see problem areas. The first is to take my advice: set the manuscript aside for a few weeks—maybe more. This helps immensely, but if it doesn’t solve the situation, and you can’t identify problem areas, then please look at my post on peer editing. This post goes over a list of questions that you should make sure critique partners answer after every chapter. What I want you to do is to answer these questions at the end of every one of your chapters—and if you don’t have chapters yet, make them!

What these questions will do is get you to think critically about your writing. It can be hard to push yourself without some outside force encouraging you along, and this is what the questions do. By the time you finish rereading your book now, you should have pages of critical feedback, and a place to begin.

Some Final Thoughts
There are many disheartened writers who feel the road ahead of them is too long, and their manuscript too feeble.  The truth is that we all start here, and we all get overwhelmed at times by these same fears. The solution is perseverance and perhaps a little direction. I hope today’s post has given you that. So open up that document (or set it aside) and begin making those edits to your book.

Happy writing,

Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services


  1. I agree that setting your ms aside for a while allows you to get a new perspective.

    If you kind of forget what you've written, when you come back it looks different.

    I am on my fourth rewrite of a novel I plan to publish this year. The first draft was writing, that's it. No editing, no going back and rereading, just getting the words on paper. The second and third where rewrites that I did almost immediately. The fourth one was after I left it for a couple of months, well actually about four.

    Boy what a difference!

    In between I'd done NaNoWriMo and finished another cooperative writing project. Both of those projects were good for the learning process, show vs tell, dialogue, plot yadda yadda yadda.

    Anyway I came back to the project I set aside and now I am doing a rewrite/edit this time and then giving it some of the people in my writing group to read/critique.

    It's a very long process but I know if I went back to that very first draft I would shock myself at how much better it got.

    Anyway, sorry for the rambling. I enjoyed the post and I've read other and enjoy them as well.


    1. Hi Pam,

      I’ve also set my writing aside, and when I come back to it (sometimes months later), I’m always surprised by how easy it is to go in and make edits. Perspective can be really hard when you’re dealing with your own work. Thanks for commenting, and I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying the posts!

      Happy writing,