How to Edit Your Novel With Efficiency

Editing cat does not like what she sees.How to edit with efficiency. Wow. That’s something I’ve struggled with. How about you?

While I can whip off a full-length novel in a month or two, editing them to the point where I actually feel ready to share it with the world has literally taken me years.

And that isn’t particularly feasible if you want to publish, is it?

Nope. Not at all. There is a major learning curve hidden in there. And I’m going to share it.

Here are the 5 things I’ve learned to get the novel editing job done. While these tips may seem straight forward and like no-brainers it is one thing to talk the talk and quite another to actually do it. And the results? Completely worthwhile.

Here we go:

5 Ways to Edit Your Novel With Efficiency

** Major Tip: Don’t try to edit for everything in one fell swoop (<-Tweet this). You know how many words, scenes, ideas, and details are in a full-length novel? LOTS. Know how hard it is to keep all those story balls in the air while you do a pass of edits–very, very difficult. So take it easy on yourself and edit for one thing at a time. Take several passes. In the long run it will go faster, you will use your time more efficiently, and you will do a much better job.

1. Have a game plan and be organized

This is straight forward, but was difficult for me to learn. The temptation is great to jump right in and just edit. But what I’ve learned is: Figure out what you are editing for and read with an eye only for that. In other words, if you are reading for story flow, don’t edit your grammar.

If possible, finish your first draft and set it aside for a month so you ‘forget’ things about it. Then, place the file on your ereader or other device and read it as a ‘reader’ not as a writer. This way you won’t be tempted to jump in and edit the bejezus out of it. Take notes of the big things you want to take care of. This will become your first major game plan.

2. Big stuff first

Now that you have a game plan, tackle the big stuff first. Don’t be like I used to do where my grammar was all doctored up, but I still had a half dozen scenes that need to be removed as well as characters who still needed major redevelopment. (If you fine tune it as you go it becomes that much harder to cut it later if you need to. You’ve invested in that scene–you don’t want to see it go.) So, start with the big stuff like plot flow, characterization, story arc–the foundational structure of your story. Then…

3. Smaller stuff and continuity next

After the big stuff is structured how you want it, then deal with the ‘smaller’ stuff that won’t be removed or tweaked in your bigger edits–because they are done. This is where you worry about if the weather is the same across a scene, if that chapter break is in the right spot, the paragraphs are right, the grammar is good, the dialogue is perfect, etc. You don’t dust the living room before you demolish its main wall, right? Same with editing. Foundational structure in place first, then clean up and put on the decorating touches.

4. Don’t get distracted

I don’t care if you stop for tea or coffee eight times while editing a scene, what I mean is: Don’t let yourself get distracted by that continuity error you found on page 200 and submit to the urge to jump all the way back to page 125 to fix it. Take notes as you edit and follow your game plan. Lots of notes. Later when you are done your pass for X, then go back and touch up P and Q that you discovered along the way. Don’t strain your brain trying to remember all the things you need to go back to. Use the comment feature in your writing program, or the highlighting feature, or a notepad. Just focus on the current task. You’re edits will be much better.

5. Fine tune last

After you have everything the way you want it, go over one last time–fast. Watch for the little things that jump out and fix them as you go.

All done! Except… it’s now time to send it off for others to read. Their feedback will send you through this loop again. But fear not! The more you go through the edit process the closer your book will be to one of those you see on the shelves in a bookstore. Editing is not for the faint of heart! You can do this! (Editing cat doesn’t really believe what she says.)

** Another good tip. If you aren’t sure about your plot, bring in a trusted, gentle but honest beta reader near the beginning of your edits. Ask them to ignore all the little typos and errors and ask them to do a fast read for plot development or characterization or story arc or… whatever you feel might be your hangup. Just be sure to tell them that it is a rough draft and you are only seeking big picture feedback at this time. Otherwise they may not be able to see the story through the mess and judge you for it. And then everyone starts acting like editing cat.

Do you have an edit process that works well for you? Share your tips and ideas in the comment section. And don’t forget to subscribe to the blog (to the right, or below if you are on a mobile device) so you don’t miss the weekly writing tip!

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8 comments on “How to Edit Your Novel With Efficiency
  1. Jemi Fraser says:

    That’s a very good plan – I sometimes have a hard seeing the big stuff and it’s so much easier to focus on the minutia/minutiae (sp???). Thank goodness for crit buddies! 🙂

    • Nice 🙂 I’ve learned to several passes, each with their own purpose. A quick read for any glaring issues (plot holes, continuity, etc) and note it in the margins. I usually find I wrote something that makes absolutely no sense. LOL Next is simply highlighting passive writing/telling phrases/etc. Third pass is fixing those issues, and that is generally when I find the really tiny things that make or break a character. And the fourth pass is grammar, punctuation etc.

      Starting the edits next weekend for current MS.

      As always, I adore your posts, Jean 🙂

      • jeanoram says:

        Thanks TJ! So glad you enjoy them.

        It sounds like you have a FABulous editing system in place. Nicely done! I used to try and fix everything in one pass. Man, that sucked. Good luck with your edits next week. You’ll have to let us know how it goes. (And how fast!)

    • jeanoram says:

      The big stuff usually stumps me, too, Jemi. Like having a horrible character that nobody likes. Lol! Yeesh. It never fails to amaze me at all the BIG things I can miss! Thank goodness for critique buddies is right!

  2. SC Author says:

    This is FANTASTIC! Love this! I’m going to use it – I do all the things you told me not to, and I’m going to try and not do it anymore. Thank you so much!

    • jeanoram says:

      SC, I am so happy this can help you out. Learn from my lessons! Don’t arrange the photos on the wall before you demolish it! 🙂 Good luck with your future edits.

  3. Randi says:

    I found this very helpful! Do you know of any online sites where I could have people read my novel and help me edit it? I don’t want to show it to my family or friends and was wondering if there is a way to do it anonymously.

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