Red Ink, Sweat, and Tears: The Power of Editing

The hardest part about editing is either in accepting your novel needs a lot of help or acknowledging that it can be helped. It points out plot holes and flat characters and poor writing, but it also reveals those few precious gems hidden in the muck, the riches that make it all worthwhile.

As I delve further into the editing process for my novel WiP, Dire Fate, I’m growing more and more confident that the hard work will pay off in the end. Allow me to share my process with you.

1. I started editing before the novel was completely finished.

It’s commonly argued that one should not edit while they write. It’s time consuming, and distracting, and you’re worried more about the immediate perfection of the novel rather than the overall picture. I know from personal experience that trying to edit and write at the same time is not a good idea.

However, a novel must also be a smooth progression from start to finish, and it’s easy to lose track of all the little pieces in play. My draft was about 2/3 of the way finished when I began to mark it up for editing. This meant that enough time had passed since I’d written the earlier chapters that I could look at them objectively. It also meant that I could write a better ending with the smaller details of the beginning now refreshed in my mind.

2. I printed out a physical copy. Note: Double-spaced text is important.

The most important thing that must happen in the editing stage is becoming completely and utterly unafraid to fill the blank space with comments on what’s wrong, or even what’s right, with a certain paragraph, sentence, even word. Document programs like Google Docs or Microsoft Word allow both page-side comments and in-text comments (though I think the latter requires using the track-changes function), but the former usually results in a cluttered, crowded sidebar and the latter makes for a jarring and incoherent reread.

Double-spaced might seem like a waste of paper, but it gives you plenty of room to mark down things that stand out as needing fixed or needing kept as-is. Not to mention, I believe paper copies are simply easier on the eyes.

Put the file on a flash drive, take it to Staples or someplace similar, and print. Staples costs 0.10 per page (the same it would cost to go to the library, except you don’t have to feel quite so guilty about using up several hundred pages and a lot of their ink, because those printers are meant for bulk printing.) It cost me perhaps a little over $30 to have my 350 pg manuscript printed.

3. The revising stage started after my manuscript was finished and I was about halfway through mark-up.

My timing was stellar, actually, because I was in the middle of the first re-read right as I finished writing the manuscript. As far as that smooth progression goes, it is quite useful to know where your middle and end is as you prepare to work heavily on the beginning.

The middle of the story is hardest to work with, and often gets neglected in favor of the beginning and ending. It makes sense; the beginning must draw in your readers and the ending must satisfy them. But I feared for a dragging middle, and with the way things fell into place, I could determine how I could spruce up the beginning so that the middle would not fall so flat.

4. I re-read the chapter. Again. With all of the red ink attached.

Sometimes the suggested edits are enough. Sometimes, though, they actually make it worse or just don’t help that section reach its full potential. And it’s not uncommon while reading a chapter to find something that rings a warning bell, but not loud enough to actually warrant a note. If the same thing stands out during the second reading, it’s probably something that needs fixed.

With all of that done, I start a new file and pull up the old one. For the chapters that just need a few minor edits, it’s a simple matter of creating a copy of the original document and fixing what needs fixed. (A new copy is helpful because then you are able to refer to the original document if later you need to remember something you did in a previous draft.) Most of the chapters, though, might need to be written from scratch, with a few segments copied over and adjusted as needed.

Because I’m also at the beta reading stage, I’ve got files for the individual chapters so they can be easily sent over to my betas, and I’ve got a file for the final complete draft.

5. Once I’ve finished rewriting the chapter, I wait at least a few hours, and read it over one last time. Aloud.

Most of my edits this point have revolved around plot or character short-comings, with the occasional grammatical assistance. By this point, it already sounds better, and as a narrative works far better than the original draft. But sentence flow is just as important, and the voice tends to catch or stumble over sections of writing that are poorly written. Once I’ve read through the chapter and am confident that it’s as good as it’s going to get — both in terms of writing as well as story-telling in general — I consider it finished and copy it onto the complete draft document.

As a general rule of thumb, the more times you read through it, the more likely you are to catch things you missed in previous read-throughs. Just, don’t get stuck trying to attain utter perfection before declaring it as good as it’s going to get. And make sure you give yourself time between each read-through so you can have at least a bit of distance from the draft.

My Questions For You

For published authors: What was your editing process? Did it look similar at all to mine? How many times did you go through your draft before you went onto the next stage? How did you know when it was done?

For unpublished authors: Where are you at in the writing/editing process? Have you found any other tips and tricks online or elsewhere that you intend to use when it’s time to edit?

Book Review Coming Soon.


A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

Writing Prompt


“‘All that talk about the power of friendship,’ the antagonist murmured as they circled the protagonist. ‘And it never even occurred to you that perhaps your enemies might have friends too, did it? How arrogant a thing you are…'”

Origin: unknown. Found on Pinterest.


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