How to Edit a Novel Without F’n Around

One Step Closer to Hell 360x540 WebsiteInstead of NaNoWriMo I’m participating in NaNoEditMo–National Edit a Novel in a Month (real contest that I just made up). I’m currently editing my second novel One Step Closer to Hell. I learned a lot after the first one, and this one is going better so far.

I’m pretty sure all new writers finish a novel and wonder what in the world comes next. Do I know? Debatable. But here are my steps for getting that all-important 2nd draft completed.

1. Make a plan

Yes, I get it. Some of you are ‘pantsers’ and don’t plan anything when it comes to writing your book. I tend to lean this way when writing, but I’ve found value in making a plan before editing. You can’t do it all in one pass–you’ll miss plenty even after three edits (which is why it’s important to let someone else do the final few edits). When editing, try to focus on one thing at a time.

2. Take a break

Every novelist that I’ve come across has talked about the importance of taking a break in order to distance yourself from your work. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve forgotten many parts of my second novel. I even wrote a novella during my break so I could completely dive into another project.  This definitely helped me attack the edit with a ruthless eye.

3. Fix the awkward

I know, I know. Most authors tell you to read it all of the way through and simply take notes when you finally come back to your book. However, I can’t do that. I find my work littered with sentences that sound like they came straight out of a toddler’s mouth. I have to fix that before I can read it and pretend it’s a real book.

I do this by reading the entire manuscript out loud, and fixing every sentence that reads like a meth head wrote it. Yes, that makes you look like a crazy person–but who are we kidding? We wrote an entire book of imaginary characters; that makes us a tad bit crazy in and of itself.

4. First Read-through

Now that I can get through more than one chapter without beating my head on my desk, I read the book and take notes. Only big picture notes–plot holes, inconsistencies, character development ideas, etc.  I look for issues that will take additional writing to fix–or issues that will be as simple as highlighting and hitting the backspace button.

5. Tear it apart

This is where the novel takes its shape. I add the parts I noted from above, delete scenes, move scenes around, break scenes into chapters, and chapters into parts, identify key plot devices that I can play around with, determine narrative structure, and shift the pace to my liking. This is where the rough draft becomes a legitimate manuscript.

6. Very important

I delete every instance of the word ‘very’. I tend to use this word a lot, but it’s a word you only put with weak adjectives.

Example: If I have: “A very big couch sat in the corner.” I would alter it to: “A ginormous couch sat in the corner.” or something like that. We use very so often that it doesn’t do much to change the meaning of a sentence.

I do something similar to the phrase, ‘a little bit’.

I’m pretty sure every writer has that one word or phrase that makes a reader want to choke a puppy if used too often. It’s important to take those phrases and light them on fire.

7. LY Adverbs

Here’s another crutch that writers like myself use to ‘make a sentence sound better’. Like the word very, people say these all of the time to convey a stronger meaning. If you use too many of them, it looks like you’re trying too hard.


Bill ferociously dialed the phone.

Alice picked it up contemptuously. “Hello.”

How clumsy does that sound? I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

No, we can’t part with all of these. Hell, I have a hard time parting with even half of these. But for the love of God, try to mitigate the awkwardness (see #3).

8. Give your characters their own voice

This was easy in my second book because I already nailed down the characters’ personalities, but this was an issue in Deadly Colors. All my characters sounded the same. I had to go back and change the way they spoke in order to differentiate who was who. This is arguably the most important step in character development. Is your character mean, loud, socially awkward, smart, dumb, shy, nerdy, tough, or confident? Dialogue is the best way to demonstrate these traits.

9. Proofread

It’s best to save this for the end so that you don’t have to keep doing this during every step in the process. Yes, you’ll naturally get a ton of this during the other steps, but it’s good to have an edit devoted to this. I use a program called Grammarly to accomplish this step, but MS word should be sufficient if you know what you’re doing grammar-wise (which I don’t).

10. Rinse and repeat

Cool…you have a second draft now. That’s probably not going to cut it either. Repeat steps 3-9 until you’re finally happy with it.

11. Throw in the towel and call 911

You get to the point when you’re so sick of your own work that you don’t even want to read it anymore. This is when it’s as good as you can make it on your own. This was the hardest moment for me when getting my first book ready to go.

Call for backup.

Now it’s time to send it off to beta readers and your editor to see what they think. Now is the moment you let go. Sure, there’s plenty of other work to do after you get feedback, but compared to what was already done, this should be a cakewalk. Either they’ll love it, or someone will finally call you out on your bullshit. Either way–this moment is both terrifying and exciting.

Keep tweaking it until it’s finally ready to go. High-five yourself and grab some coffee…you’re a writer now.


2 thoughts on “How to Edit a Novel Without F’n Around”

  1. This is a great post. I definitely go through all these processes when editing, just not in a very orderly fashion. I may have t. Use this list next time! My words are ‘quite’ and ‘perhaps’ she said, apologetically ;o)


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