Editing Your Novel in 5 Easy Steps

Just about every author grapples with editing. In a sense, it’s a process that seems to contradict the free-flowing, unrestrained nature of the creative act of writing. It can feel painfully slow, meticulous, and rather tedious. But if I’m being honest, editing your novel is not just a necessary evil one must tolerate during the journey from draft to final manuscript.

Editing is, in fact, the secret weapon for crafting a well-rounded, polished narrative that distinguishes itself from the mass of manuscripts lining agents’ and publishers’ inboxes. It is an essential part of the writing process, helping to refine your prose, enhance the impact of your story, and ensure your novel is ready for readers.

Editing is much more than just rectifying mistakes or inconsistencies. It entails honing in on the key aspects that make the story appealing, amplifying its inherent potential, and making certain that every single component works together in harmony. It’s akin to conducting a well-orchestrated musical performance, adjusting every element so it contributes to a seamless and captivating experience.

Thankfully, the editing process need not be as overwhelming as it may appear initially. Breaking down the process into smaller, more manageable steps can make editing less intimidating. Below, I provide a roadmap of five simple, easy-to-follow steps to guide you on your editing journey, transforming your manuscript into a polished masterpiece.

Step #1: Separate Your Editing Time

The golden rule of editing? It’s simple: don’t write and edit concurrently. 

Engaging in both activities simultaneously is akin to trying to see the forest for the trees. If you’re incessantly scrutinizing every word and sentence you’ve just penned, it becomes impossible to stay in the flow of the narrative. You’ll inevitably get caught up in the fine details and overlook the larger narrative landscape. 

Hence, it’s advisable to separate your writing sessions from your editing ones. Allow your written narrative to settle a bit before you revisit it. This ‘cooling-off’ period doesn’t necessarily need to be long; even an hour’s break can effectively clear your mind, enabling you to look at your work with fresh, more objective eyes. However, I would advise waiting until you have a full first draft before you start editing.

Step #2: Read it Out Loud

Before you grab that red pen and dive into editing your novel, consider reading your story aloud. This may seem unconventional, but vocalizing your prose is a potent way to spot errors, clumsy phrasing, and repetitive or overused words. Simply reading your manuscript with your eyes can certainly help detect typographical errors, but reading it aloud breathes life into the narrative. 

Additionally, reading your story aloud gives you a sense of the pacing and flow, both structurally and emotionally. It immediately reveals any awkward, jarring sentences, dialogue that doesn’t quite sound natural, or sections where the narrative pace lags—providing an overall sense of the rhythm and cadence of your story.

Here’s a tip:  use the read-aloud feature on your word processor. The program won’t be tempted to skip over familiar passages. Each word must stand on its own. 

Step #3: Start Big

Your manuscript is going to go through not one but multiple rounds of editing. So don’t invest too much energy in spelling and grammar in the first go-round. Instead, focus your initial efforts on big-picture items like:

  • Cutting down unnecessary scenes or chapters.
  • Filling any plot holes that become apparent.
  • Shifting character arcs so they align more with the story.
  • Making sure that every scene has a purpose and moves the plot forward.
  • Finding opportunities to amp up tension, conflict, and drama.

Once you’ve adequately addressed these big-picture elements, you can then shift your attention to the minutiae. Read here for more on the different levels of editing.

Step #4: Take it Scene by Scene

With the macro issues addressed, it’s time to shift your focus to the micro level, dissecting your story scene by scene. At this stage, you should read and reread each sentence, examining it from various perspectives to ensure each word contributes to the story. 

Examine your sentence structures closely. If you find that you’re using the same pattern repeatedly, consider diversifying it with different verb tenses or more vibrant phrasing. The objective is to make each scene feel fully realized and integral to the story while also functioning as a stepping stone in advancing the plot.

Don’t shy away from making substantial edits to your work. If something isn’t working or detracting from the story, be brave and excise, rewrite, or relocate it. The editing process is as much about trimming the fat as it is about refining the substance.

Step #5: Recruit More Eyes

This might be the most challenging stage for many writers. It’s difficult to release your precious prose into the world, allowing others to scrutinize and critique it. It requires a leap of faith, but it is a leap that is well worth taking.

Enlist the help of an editor or beta reader who can offer you honest feedback about your story’s conceptual framework and technical execution. Input from an alternative viewpoint can unveil issues you may have missed, thereby allowing you to further refine your novel into a truly unique and polished work of art.

If you struggle with perfectionism, it might be challenging to accept criticism. However, the feedback you receive from an outside source could be the secret ingredient that transforms your story into a genuine page-turner. While feedback from friends and family can be helpful, a professional book editor can:

– Provide a comprehensive critique of the plot and character development.

– Identify stylistic inconsistencies, grammatical errors, and typos you may have overlooked.

– Highlight potential areas for enhancement.

Opening your work to the scrutiny of others is a significant step but can also lead to the most transformative insights.

Need Assistance with Editing?

Editing can be a daunting task, but with a systematic approach and professional guidance, you can elevate your story from good to excellent. Several tools can help your power through as you edit your novel. Here are three I know well and have used in my own writing.

For big-picture content editing, take a look at web-based software called Fictionary. It’s organized to help you step through the process in a methodical manner and provides unique visual summaries to help you see aspects of your story from multiple angles. 

Language-level line editing tools like ProWritingAid and Grammarly go far beyond the often mediocre word processor spell checkers. Test them both out and see which fits your style. 

If you need assistance with the editing process, PD Hines Editing offers top-notch editing services designed to help you transform your manuscript into a well-organized and polished story. I can revise your manuscript and spot errors, but I’ll also ensure that your novel adheres to industry standards while preserving your original storytelling intention. 

Writing a novel is an artistic endeavor, but turning it into a polished, ready-to-publish gem is a craft that requires a different skill set. Editing refines your creative effort, enhancing the clarity of your prose, the strength of your story, and the impact of your message. So, take the plunge and embark on this crucial journey of editing your novel. With these five simple steps, you will be well on your way to creating a manuscript that truly stands out.

Click here to learn more about how PD Hines Editing can help you through the editing process.


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Story Coach, Story Development

I’m Pam, Your Story Coach

I help busy professionals write and polish the book of their dreams. Let’s bring authenticity to your speculations, flow to your structure, and heart to your words.

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