How do you edit?

With only three chapters remaining until I’ve completed my second draft of TDM, I’m getting that niggling feeling I might be missing something, or going about this all wrong. I don’t know where these thoughts come from! I can’t explain the irrational doubts which enter my mind. I’ll be working away merrily, then BAM. β€œDo you even know what you’re doing?”. The answer to that is a resounding no, but we can all agree that none of anyone knows what they’re doing, so it’s all okay.

But to sate my curiosity, and my innate need to compare, I thought I’d just put it out there: how do you go about editing a manuscript?

I started out by reading the whole story. At least, I think I did. There’s a very good chance I got half way (or less) through it before I started making changes. I’ve been trying to work methodically, start to finish. At the beginning of a session, I will go back a scene or two and refresh my memory and get into the groove of the story before I edit further.

There have been many instances where I’ve changed something, and had to go back to much earlier in the story to modify something small for accuracy. Or worse, browse through the previous chapters to figure out what I already wrote, sometimes because I just need to verify my own memory, and sometimes because I can’t recall exactly what I changed.

It feels like a whole lot of back-and-forth. Am I doing something wrong? Is this the normal way to edit? Am I just terribly neurotic? (Yes.) Will this all get easier with practice, or am I going to be stuck with this method forever?

I’ve mentioned in another post how I love to collect and save words of wisdom and inspiration (Just half of a fully forgotten memory). One of the gems in my collection comes from INTERN’s NaNoReVisMo (another alternate to InSecDraMo). I can take a lot of comfort in seeing what INTERN deems vital during editing, because I can compare notes and see that I’m doing a whole lot of what she’s mentioned. That’s important! My feelings are being validated! I might almost be on the right track!

But let me know what you get up to when it’s time to polish your story.



17 thoughts on “How do you edit?

  1. While I am by no means a pro at this, I thought I’d leave my two cents worth on how to edit.

    I wrote my novel quickly. You know, stream of consciousness and all that. Since I had to write in chunks of time, with long periods in between those chunks, I’d have to go back and reread sections just to remind myself where I left off and what was supposed to happen next. Even then, I’d forget where the character I was writing about had lived. Anyway, I’d make contradictions and other mistakes like that.

    Skip forward to the actual editing. I’m an engineer by training, meaning we work on an iterative process with a drafter. The engineer marks it up, and the drafter makes the changes. I had two people read the manuscript and I blindly made the changes. Most were additions because some of what I wrote was too vague.

    Then I uploaded it to createspace and had them make a proof. Now I am going through the book page by page (follow my editing process at, actually reading the thing for the first time. Only then, I think, do you start to see the contradictions or the things that you think should be in there. I also read a sentence, then find myself editing it in my own head to make it sound better than it was printed. So I have to sit there and rewrite sentences so that they flow like good English.

    I expect after I’ve done each chapter in turn, I’ll go back once more and reread the whole thing again. Just to be sure I got it all! Goord lord, I’ll be sick of the sight of the book by the time it is over with!

    But yes, that is how it should be. Iterative. I think I will always read the book and find things that need changing. I like the fact that the book is so long and contains so much stuff that even I, the author, can’t remember all of the details. Keep at it.

    1. Goodness, that’s quite an intensive process. There’s no way I could edit so… distantly? I am intensely aware of where my story is going (never tried anything stream of consciousness, too vague for me!), so I could never give up any kind of creative direction and just change my work on the whims of others. I believe that I personally should never show my work while it’s in an unedited draft stage. Others can do what works for them, but I think it should be polished as far as the writer can take it before they let other fingers smudge the image. πŸ˜‰ After all, I’m the one with the vision, and letting other people drive the changes will defeat the purpose of me writing my story.

      It’s pretty incredible that you can be my opposite in that regard!

      I also wouldn’t print it before editing, since I edit as I read and put those changes right in (working in yWriter makes this a painless process! ). After all, two run-throughs wouldn’t be enough for anyone to ensure the flow of the text and all the issues were absolutely taken care of, and that would waste a lot of resources!

      Thanks for your input!


  2. I can’t say I’ve ever edited a manuscript before, but one thing is pretty obvious: Prepare for multiple stages of editing. The going back to change something? It’s normal and also why getting everything edited in one single round of editing is nigh impossible. Don’t worry too much about it. If you change something that affects earlier in the story, make a note “Change XYZ” and once you finish the first round of edits, you go do another round.

    1. I’ve always been terrible with notes – either they’re too vague and I don’t remember what I intended, or they’re so detailed that I should just go back and edit it on the spot!

      While this is “officially” the second edit, I can honestly say I’ve gone over the chapters dozens of times each. That’s why it takes so long. But I’m really happy with the direction it’s going. This is a good edit! πŸ˜€


  3. I do it in two stages: first comes rewrites,which don’t have any editing in them, just adding and subtracting what is needed or not needed. If I find gramatical mistakes during this process I will edit them out, but during rewrites I’m not really looking for the small stuff. More focused on story, character arc, plot holes, stuff like that. Once I have it all making sense and the characters consistant, then I print a hard copy and have a read through as if I’m reading someone else’s book…and I scribble all over it. (I believe this is an important step, because words on a page look different than words on a screen…I’m not sure just why.) Then I have another go at the computer file to fix anything.
    Lastly, after all the rewrites are finished, I put on my editor’s hat and try to find any mistakes or dropped words or grammer snafus.
    Then I have others read it, and start all over again.
    I think you are doiing what must be done, Ashlee. And I applaud you for not taking the easy whay out and just publishing an unfinished rough draft, as so many are tending to do.
    It’s hard work polishing a diamond, and takes a fine type of grit.

    1. Apart from the distinct stages, I seem to do roughly the same thing! Add, subtract, and edit for wording, and all the really nitty-gritty gets done after a print-out. I’m almost dreading the moment when I hear back from my readers about MORE changes.

      I like awesome books too much not to make mine the best it can be. πŸ˜‰ Thanks for your support, Cynthia!


  4. Hi Ashlee, this is a subject with no right answers but one. I’ll come back to that. I have a process which may be helpful. It’s simple and effective, for me. I have a programme on my Mac called Text-Speech-Pro. (It’s a freeware thing and I’m not sure if it’s available for other PC’s. Google it?) I copy and paste my text into this from Word then with the MS open in Word, I set the text speak going. It reads the text aloud to me. It is astonishing how many mistakes and gaffs get picked up when one hears it as well as sees the text on the page. I can pause, edit, and then go on, working my way through one chapter at a time. When that’s all done I do it again and again until I’m happy and then, I do the most important thing, and the only sure way to finish an edit – I send it to my trusted editor. That last step is crucial and on my first book I skipped it and have regretted it ever since.
    Editing is not fun but it is crucial to get it right.
    Regards davidrory.

    1. Oh yes, the read-out-loud stage cannot be understated! You are so right, there are mistakes you’ll never notice until you hear it spoken. Using a text-to-speech utility sounds like an interesting method. How do you find it handles unusual words and names? Since I write a lot of fantasy, I cringe to imagine it struggling over some of the more creative names. πŸ˜‰

      Hey, editing can be fun, it just tends toward maddening. XD Thank you and welcome!


      1. WordPress manages weird names very well. When it hits one it can’t cope with it spells it out! It does struggle with some oddities like the short name Jan, which it renders as January!
        Editing fun eh? You lucky writer. It’s like pulling teeth for me.
        Regards davidrory.

  5. First like you I reread the manuscript, then I edit for overall structure (by outlining all scenes); then once I make sure the structure is all in place, I edit scene by scene; then I edit for wording; then finally I do a line by line grammar/punctuation/spelling, etc. edit. It’s a LONG and cumbersome process…. and involves taking lots and lots of notes, often with index cards πŸ™‚ Thanks for the link to the INTERN blog! Looks so interesting & helpful! I also liked the blog post by Julia Hones (who commented here w/ link); similar to my method as well!

    1. On my last serious project edit (Harvest), I did line editing after my betas had read. This time, I’m already aware of little things in word choices and grammatical structure that I can’t just leave when I’m picking through the piece. I think it’s making the process even longer! XD


  6. I do it all in one pass, no changes, no corrections. No, wait, that’s not me; that’s James Joyce. πŸ˜‰

    1. I love the romantic notion of something coming out so perfect, fully formed, but I’m finding half the fun is making the story better than it was before. Too bad James Joyce doesn’t get to enjoy that experience. πŸ˜‰


  7. Editing is a tricky thing for me. I like to imagine that I can get most of the way done with a story and have it at least be readable. Editing and writing sort of go together for me. I know they say you shouldn’t edit as you go, but I kinda do to a degree.

    As I’m writing a story, once I’m to the point where I think I know where it should go, I start reading back and fixing things as I go. Sometimes I write something that is a new fact and changes behaviors earlier in the work, so I just go back and fix that scene. Then I can carry on. I keep doing this until I get to something like the first draft.

    I print the first draft out and I read through it, making notes and crossing out things. (Usually a lot of things. I believe it’s better to write too much than to write too little.) I probably do this a couple of times if I’m being thorough. Then I send it off to be read by other people who will point out what isn’t clear to them or what seems to be lacking. I have one very trusted critique partner who then goes through and helps me clean up the language. As a final measure, I like to get a proof copy and have my boyfriend read through it for typos and any other errors. He’s really thorough and very nit-picky, so I’m learning to trust him. In between all the times I send the story out, I try to read through it myself and make not only the suggested changes, but to clean it up and modify it a bit more.

    I feel like with this most recent story, I didn’t read through it as thoroughly as normal because it’s short, and I didn’t want to get absolutely sick of it. I’m sort of paying for that now though as I am reworking and rewriting parts of it!

    1. I honestly don’t know how much I manage to edit as I go. I probably do some minor adjustments every time I look back over the piece, and I know if I think of something that really needs to be included, I will go back and edit it in. If I don’t, I’ll forget the wording I want!

      Being over-saturated by our work is something we’ll never be able to avoid, I suspect. πŸ˜‰


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