Approaches to Editing

February 18, 2022

So, you’ve finished writing your manuscript. Congrats! Huzzah!

Now it’s time to turn that haphazard collection of phrases and scenes into a polished, thoughtful, and intentional novel. And how do you do that? By editing.

Editing is a small word, but it encompasses a heck of a lot of work. And it requires a completely different way of looking at your manuscript than when you were writing it. There’s a reason writers talk about putting away their Creative Brain and taking out their Editing Brain, or swapping their Creative Hat for their Editing Hat.

Editing is a completely different skill set, and it can be daunting, depending on your experience level. (But don’t worry, that’s why I’m here!)

It’s one thing to create; it’s quite another to polish. At this point, you’re no longer thinking up cool stuff to happen in your story. Instead, you’re checking to make sure that the cool stuff you thought up works.

There are several ways to approach the editing phase of your novel, so let’s take a look at a few common approaches:

Edit As You Go

Many writers will, at the start of a new writing session, make a point of re-reading what they wrote during their last session. This practice not only helps remind the author where they left off, but also gives them the perfect opportunity to edit before diving into a new section. Edits can be as light as fixing typos, go as far as investigating tone and voice, or might involve revising something drastic, like pacing or the plot.

Pros: You finish with a tighter, more polished first draft.

Cons: Could fall into the rabbit hole of editing and re-editing what you’ve already written, instead of moving on and finishing the manuscript.

Reread But Don’t Edit

Similar to the above, these writers re-read their earlier sections when they return to work, but they don't make changes to their previous text. The idea is to remind themself where they left off, without switching out their creative brain for their analytical one, a practice which could stall their word flow.

Pros: You’ll have a great familiarity with the text, having read it over multiple times as you were writing it, and will have a good idea of what already exists in the manuscript when you finish it.

Cons: You might end up with a very distracting, long running list of things to fix, keeping you from losing yourself in telling the tale.

Edit Only at the End

Alternately, you can re-read nothing and edit nothing as you write, starting each session fresh with a refusal to swap out your creative brain for your analytical one.

Pros: It allows you read the whole, completed manuscript at once, once it actually exists, and get a clear view of the big picture as it came out of your head. It also allows your creative side to flourish, without impediments.

Cons: You may have wandered off-course somewhere and failed to catch a major discrepancy or plot hole. Now you have a whole big book to fix, and that can be overwhelming.

Take Some Time Off

No matter what form of editing you prefer to do while you’re transitioning between drafts one and two, I highly recommend you leave the book alone for a bit when you’re done your first round of revisions, before heading into draft three. Diamonds form under pressure, sure, but bread rises when it’s left to rest. I typically like to take a month or two away from the book, so that when I come back, I can investigate it line-by-line, having (hopefully) forgotten the minutia of everything wrote. This allows me to read what I wrote with fresh eyes, instead of through the filter of what I thought I put on the page.

This post is the first in a blog series on editing. Please check back for the next installment. 

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